Kenyans Celebrate U.S. Presidential Inauguration

January 22, 2009
Kenyans Cheer President Obama's Inauguration Speech

About the Author: Thomas J. Dowling serves as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

Via the seeming magic of big screen TVs, U.S. Embassy Nairobi’s Public Affairs Section managed to add another 400 excited participants to the throng on the Mall Tuesday evening at the residence of the Public Affairs Officer. Over 200 students from ten high schools and nine universities joined another 200 educational, cultural, media and civil society contacts in cheering as President Obama took the oath of office and then mentioned in his speech the small village where his father was born. President Obama's pointed references to dealing with the realities of economic crisis in the United States and his calls on the strengths, hopes and ideals of the American people that had brought him to the White House and which would restore America's standing in the world were not lost on the Kenyans. In conversation after conversation, Kenyans old and young alike wondered how they could raise new political leaders like our President.

For the last week, the imminent accession of Kenya’s favorite, if somewhat removed son, to the most visible office in the world had become the news again and the only topic on people’s lips for days. Virtually every footstep of the final journey to and events in Washington were followed avidly, with days of commentary from young and old alike. Today, 36 hours after the big event, the coverage remains high but the headlines carry double meanings for Kenyans: “The Party is Over…..;” “Hard Work Ahead,” because they heard his words as calls to arms to them as well to bring political and financial order to Kenya as well.

In electronic programming, media commentary and purely personal reactions, Kenyans spoke as one in focusing on the way the points of the inaugural address that defined the specific ills America faced and would overcome reflected the economic and political turmoil in Kenya. They wondered where the spirit of Americans from its founders through its immigrants, past and recent, to its newly awakened youth, could be found among Kenyans to deal with its own constitutional reforms and anti-corruption issues. Where, they asked wistfully, were the Kenyan Obama’s who could break the chains of tribalism, party politics, and the culture on impunity and institute a regime of law?

The Embassy program, while a culmination of the programs we had run to educate Kenyans about the U.S. electoral process (with the obvious parallels to their own) prior to the November 4 election, now serves as the starting point for a new embassy speakers program on the peaceful political transition, the realization of the American ideals of equality and the rule of law embodied in the Constitution and brought to fulfillment through the Civil Rights movement that will carry us through Black History Month and Women's History Month.

The Public Affairs Section complemented the Inauguration program with art, song and poetry created specifically for the event in response to a competition to express “Unity Through Diversity.” The performances and the artwork that graced the tents added immeasurably to an incredibly moving and motivating evening.



Heather F.
January 24, 2009

Heather in Mauritania writes:

MAURITANIA -- Over 250 guests convened on US embassy grounds to welcome the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. The excitement was palpable at the entrance where a line of guests winded out the door into the parking lot just prior to the live swearing in. Each invitee was given an Obama pin and sticker and escorted to the tennis court which was transformed into a viewing area for the Inaugural event. Just outside the viewing area, Mauritanian artists displayed paintings in honor of the occasion, portraits of Obama made with seeds and sand, symbolizing progress and his African roots, as well has Obama in traditional clothing. Once inside guests were invited to have their photograph taken alongside a life-sized Obama cut. They were then printed on the spot -- at final count over 300 color photos distributed to guests. After brief remarks welcoming guests on this historic occasion, the Charge D'Affairs, Dennis Hankins, invited all to watch the live swearing-in on the French, Arabic and English televisions. Following the live viewing, TV personality Bios Diallo moderated a debate between civil society members, journalists, Mauritanians and Americans. They shared their immediate reactions to the speech and to the historic occasion for America, Mauritania and the world at large. Mauritanian Sociology Professor Dr. Kamara declared that "Obama's election is a huge step forward for American Democracy and proves an ability of a society to evolve, as Obama stated, 60 years ago blacks in America couldn't even go to the same places as whites." Hundreds of copies of the IIP publication "Barack Obama: 44th President" were available in French, English and Arabic -- over 500 were distributed. Free T-shirts, tea coasters, buttons, stickers and posters emblazoned with the now typical iconic Obama image in green and white, Mauritania's colors, were also available. At the exit guests were invited to choose from one of 3 ARS French translations of Obama's books, Dreams from My Father, The Audacity of Hope and his Discourse on Race. VIP guests in attendance included in Ambassador's from France, China and the Congo as well as the head of the National Association of Imams and the United Nations Representative. The event was widely covered in Arabic and French local press.

Winnie L.
Washington, USA
January 28, 2009

Winnie L. in U.S.A. writes:

I just wanted to say thank you to the Public affairs office for organizing the event. I wish I had stayed in Kenya a week longer. I could have shared the excitment of the moment with my fellow Kenyans. I decided that joing my fellow Americans in Washington DC would be the best thing to do. Boy was I wrong. As number 2m I didn't even make it close to the big screen. The cold was a killer. Imagine coming from Kenya and straight to DC! Please send a thank you note to whoever invited you to the big screen. You captured the moment.

Ohio, USA
January 29, 2009

Maria in Ohio writes:

Hello! My name is Maria, and I am a journalism student in the United States. I am working on a story right now about the Kenyan response to Obama's election, and this blog post was very interesting! Would you be willing to talk with me perhaps a little more about this issue, Mr. Dowling? Perhaps over e-mail?

I so look forward to hearing from you!


Lucas P.
Virginia, USA
January 29, 2009

Lucas M. in Virginia writes:

Kenyan had all the reasons to celebrate. As a first black U.S. president Barack Obama has the mandate to restore Americas image in the world. Many Kenyans feel honored that one of their own has his named tied to this milestone in American history. Being a member of the Luo community from which Barack Obama Sn., originated, I feel very proud of this event. I always pray that the president will succeed in turning the economy around as well as build international bridges that the Bush Administration trashed during the last 8 years.

I will therefore take this opportunity to thank the U.S. embassy in Nairobi for allowing many Kenyans to witness history on the widescreen.

But celebrations aside!!! The hard work of building not only the U.S. economy but the entire world should fall on everyone's shoulders. Obama alone cannot revive the broken systems. We must all pitch in in our small ways to HELP rebuild our global village. I feel confident that with Hillary Clinton at the helm of the State Department the world can rally behind the U.S.A. as America regains it glory to lead the free world.

My dear Kenyans let us help rebuild through PEACE, RECONCILIATION, LOVE and UNITY.

God bless the U.S.A., Kenya and the entire global community.

T. D.
February 2, 2009

DipNote Blogger T. J. Dowling writes:

@ Maria, I'd be happy to discuss Kenayn response to Obama election. It was in a word, huge.


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