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msafi ri 58 a senator in 2004, a source of national pride despite the fact that he is an American citizen and has visited the country only three times. A local beer, Senator, was named in his honour. During the lengthy campaigns, Kenyans kept abreast of developments, waking up early to watch the debates, reading up on the issues and America's complex electoral system. A popular joke in Kenya told of a famous American comedian's response on being asked who would win the race: " This guy is from Kenya. Have you ever run a race against a Kenyan and won?" Just after dawn on 5 November 2008, melodious ululations broke out and strangers embraced as Kenya woke up to the news that their son would become " President Obama". In Nyangoma Kogelo, a sleepy village in western Kenya where Obama's father was born and raised, there is a real sense of kinship with him. Many had followed the elections closely, and stayed up watching the results on a TV big screen mounted at the local dispensary. As news went round that their fellow Kogeloan had made it to the White House, celebrations broke out in every home. A crowd of jubilant villagers made their way to his step-grandmother's house to congratulate the family. Sarah Obama, a spry 86- year- old, ran out of her house singing and dancing. Her elation was evident on her wrinkled face and she was no doubt already thinking of the day she would get to congratulate her grandson in person and make him his favourite meal of chapatis! " I was elated. There's no other way to describe it – ' the pinch- me- I'm- dreaming' feeling – and two days later, it's still the truth," says Mary Muange, a young Kenyan mother. " If you look at where this guy has come from, we're saying that you can actually do so much despite the odds. Wow! The adversity he has faced in his life makes it even more awesome that he could overcome that." This sense of wonder and excitement was shared by many other Kenyans; " It was quite inspiring. Looking at the guy's background, as much as he's an American, he was a normal guy and that's quite inspiring and proves that anyone can do it," says David Ndungu, who works for an IT company. OBAMA UNITED KENYANS For Kenyans living in America, it was an especially poignant moment. Cliff Okoth, who has lived there for 13 years, says it proved that even he could strive to achieve greatness in his adopted country. " I just screamed at the top of my lungs in joy that this had actually happened in my lifetime. A Kenyan American was going to occupy the most powerful seat in the world," he says. " For the fi rst time in my 13 years in this country, I felt proud to be a resident of the United States. We overcame one of the greatest visible barriers to life in the United States by electing a black man as president," Mr Okoth says. Obama's win had special signifi cance for Kenyans for another reason. A country still deeply divided by the ethnic animosities which had threatened to tear it apart after the disputed 2007 elections found itself united in a shared passion. Less than a year after more than 1,200 people were killed in the violence, Kenyans from across the political and ethnic divide came together to celebrate Obama's win, a sign that there is more that unites Kenyans than divides them. For Mr Okoth, who had painfully witnessed the chaos in his country from thousands of miles away, this was a small milestone that deserved to be celebrated. " After the great fi asco that was our elections in Kenya a short year ago, this victory served well to bring Kenyans together. This meant a lot to me because for once in a very long time I saw all Kenyans from all walks of life celebrate political victory for the same person regardless of ethnic differences," he says. It is easy to see why Obama's success and message of unity are an inspiration to many in Kenya. Kenyans yearn for exactly the kind of change that Obama represents. ROLE MODEL There are many lessons for Kenya to draw from Obama's victory. Perhaps the most important is that the country must do away with parochial attitudes and ethnic divisions that have stifl ed the country's growth. " It offers hope for young people. To have a 47- year- old as president of the US is quite something. With a few exceptions, in this part of the world we're not used to this. It goes to show that there's hope in young people as well," Mr Ndungu notes. John Kiarie, a young politician who vied unsuccessfully for parliament in the country's last elections, says that Obama's victory proves that Kenya's politics need a " complete shift". " For me, I feel challenged that, in his victory, we all see the ability of one person to capture the imagination of the whole world and show that what people say can't be done, can be done. In Obama's campaign you saw how important the voter was." KJ, as he is popularly known, says. " Obama started from nothing and revolutionised the way one can fundraise for a campaign. When we go out there and tell young people that they can do it, then they will understand that actually it can be done and it has been demonstrated by Obama's campaign," says the young politician, who plans to run for parliament again in 2012. For Mary Muange, Obama's ability to inspire goes beyond the political arena. " We have an endangered species in Kenya in the youth of a certain age especially the men. I think Barack is a great role model for them. I see a lot of young men caught in a cycle of dependency or apathy, and somebody like Obama represents hope. You can dare to dream – that audacity of hope like his book says. Dare to dream and actually do it. Yes you can! Why not?" BEYOND THE DOLLARS Obama takes offi ce at a time when America is facing monumental challenges. An economy on the edge of a recession, two wars, a crumbling healthcare system and a huge budget defi cit are just Joy at Obama win I FELT PROUD TO BE A RESIDENT OF THE US. WE OVERCAME ONE OF THE GREATEST VISIBLE BARRIERS TO LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES BY ELECTING A BLACK MAN AS PRESIDENT Obama special

msafiri 59 top: Obama's path to success has kept him grounded below bottom left: Jesse Jackson witnesses this historic election bottom right: fatherly love top: saul loeb/ afp/ GETY; left: emmanuel dunand/ afp/ getty; right: joe raedle/ getty