Barack Obama’s inauguration speech may have struck a sombre tone, but in his ancestral village of Kogelo, in southwest Kenya, nothing was going to dampen the party spirit of the locals. Under a large banner that declared the new president to be “Our son. Our hope.” Villagers, journalists and a smattering of curious tourists sat in the school yard watching the events thousands of miles away in Washington DC unfold on a big screen provided by a Kenyan newspaper. A passing reference in Obama’s speech to “the small village where my father was born” brought forth cheers and tears.
On this special day, the residents of Kogelo had dubbed themselves the 51st state, and the pace of transformation in the village since Obama’s election victory in November must have led some to wonder if they had indeed been adopted by the world’s wealthiest nation. In just a couple of months, Kogelo has been electrified for the first time and seen the dusty dirt track connecting it to a nearby highway upgraded to tarmac. One local newspaper reported that up to 200 foreign tourists had been visiting the village every day since Obama’s victory, and although this number seems difficult to credit given the small numbers present on inauguration day, the village can certainly expect to play host to a steady stream of foreign visitors for years to come. The Kogelo cultural festival, as the four-day inauguration festival was rather stiffly named, will, the organizer announced, become an annual event. Hopes were high among the villagers that what will surely come to be known as Obamafest will take on international significance.