(AFP) – Feb 4, 2008
KIBERA, Kenya (AFP) — As they wave machetes with gleaming blades, rioters in Kenya's sprawling slums say they have two things on their minds: protesting Kenya's presidential election and Barack Obama.
The US presidential candidate -- whose father is Kenyan -- is a favourite son of the nation which erupted into violence after hotly-contested elections in December.
President Mwai Kibaki has claimed victory in the December 27 vote but opposition leader Raila Odinga said the polls were rigged while international observers have cited serious flaws.
About 1,000 people have since died in ethnic clashes, riots and looting.
The ethnic clashes have fueled Obama fever, with members of the Luo ethnic group rallying behind Obama, whose father was a Luo.
"Obama!" a group of Luo men shouted in unison, as they stood guard at a makeshift roadblock near the entrance of Kibera, Kenya's biggest shantytown outside Nairobi.
"We are supporting him here. We want him to win the election," said Mohammed Noor, 27.
"Did you know that Obama's father is also Luo?" he added.
Behind Noor, young men yelled, "Tell Obama we want guns!"
Kibera has been rocked by violence since the election, with a death toll hovering around 50. Residents say they need weapons to protect themselves from attacks from rival ethnic groups.
Opposition leader Odinga, a Luo himself, blames a corrupt police force for what he calls the murders of innocent people in the slum. Razed homes and burnt-down shops line the roads of Kibera.
Violence among the Luos, Luhyas, Kalenjins and members of Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group across the country have forced a quarter of a million Kenyans to flee their homes.
Obama, who was given a triumphant welcome when he visited Kenya in 2006, has repeatedly called on both leaders to set aside their differences in the face of spiraling violence.
"Kenya's hard-won democracy and precious national unity can be salvaged. Now is the time for all parties to renounce violence," he wrote in a commentary this month in the Daily Nation, Kenya's top newspaper.
"Kenyans will listen to Obama, because everyone in Kenya loves him. Our similarities are much greater than our differences," said Marcy Ugangu, 21, as cars and buses roared past her on a crowded street.
But not all Kenyans are convinced of Obama's influence.
"If the UN secretary general has come to mediate without success, how can Barack Obama?" asked Grace Dola, 22, standing in the shade under a batch of trees.
Violence has raged in Kenya's western Rift Valley despite ongoing talks mediated by Annan in the capital.
Joyce Chepngeti, 34, said that Obama's message should have been directed at the people, rather than the bickering leaders.
"It's not about Odinga or Kibaki, it's about the voters right now; they're angry."
Nevertheless, Chepngeti said, they are following the US elections and are "very much pro-Obama."
"He seems like the most able to unite the nations of the world," she said.
Whether or not Obama's call for an end to the violence is heeded, it is still popular for politicians to claim a family tie to Obama.
Nicholas Rajula, who ran unsuccessfully for parliament in December in western Kenya, claimed that he was the US senator's cousin and that his father and Obama's are from the same village.
Capitalizing on Obama's appeal, Rajula employed Obama-type slogans, saying he was interested in a "new kind of politics."
Obama's 85-year old grandmother, with whom Obama has not had much contact, said she also considered Rajula a grandson.
But Obama's campaign denied that the men were related.
Odinga also claims he is Obama's cousin but he hasn't sought to turn the connection into big political gain.
"We are supporting Obama because he is part of Kenya, he is a Kenyan man," said Kibera resident Patrick Yesse, 26.
"When he takes that (presidential) seat he can help this problem here in Kenya."
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