Rob Crilly, Times (London), Nov. 4, 2008
There’s only one thing to take to a Kenyan election victory feast: a goat. Preferably still breathing—“a sign of freshness”—and with big testicles, apparently the sign of quality breeding.
And so it was that I found myself bouncing along a dirt track towards the ancestral home of the Obamas in a saloon car with the sound of John the goat bleating miserably from the boot.
It had not been easy finding such a quality specimen. The local livestock market had mostly sheep and cattle, with only a few scrawny goats on hand.
Instead, John was spotted at the side of the road by my driver George, who was impressed by the size of its belly and, well, other attributes.
He was mine for 2500 shillings, a little under £20, and roughly the price of 20 pints of beer or eight malaria-proof bednets.
“This is a fine animal,” said Abongo Malik Obama, at the lush family homestead in the far west of Kenya, surrounded by grazing cattle and fields thick with maize. “You are certainly welcome now to stay and sit around the fire tonight.” By then John will be nyama choma—the Swahili term for grilled meat.
He was to be only one small part of a vast celebration feast starting last night and comprising four bulls, 16 chickens and assorted sheep and goats.
“We are Africans, so our plan is to slaughter a bull and have friends come over,” said Abongo, the candidate’s oldest half-brother.
“We invite Kogelo (the village where Mr Obama’s Kenyan family lives) to come over and it will be open house. People will just come on over and bring a couple of sodas.”
Losing has never been considered in a country gripped by Obamamania for the best part of four years. Ever since their “lost son” was elected to the Senate everyone has been expecting him to become president.
Every twist and turn of his primary battle and general election campaign have been followed in the local papers and on television in the belief that his rise was inevitable.
Today, early signs of celebration were obvious everywhere, long before the polls opened.
American flags hung from trees in the city centre of Kisumu, the regional capital, and flapped from the handlebars of bicycle taxis.
The Jamaican reggae hit, “Barack Obama”, by Cocoa Tea boomed from matatus—the battered minibus taxis that most locals use to get around.
And bars were setting up big screens so that patrons could watch television coverage from the US as a whole nation held its breath for the signal to celebrate.
In Kogelo, women peeled onions and stoked cooking fires—yet another reminder of the vast gulf between his American dream and their African reality.
Children rehearsed their songs ahead of a party being held at a neighbouring school, the Senator Barack Obama Secondary School, while gospel music pumped from a marquee where priests were praying for victory.
Abongo, sitting in front of the tin-roofed shack that once belonged to Obama’s father, a government economist who died in a car accident more than two decades ago, said dozens of family members had congregated for a historic event.
“The reason we are here is that we are looking forward to a great day to celebrate,” he said, rubbishing any suggestion that Mr McCain might win. “We are not considering that possibility. I am not,” he said confidently, as a cock crowed in the shade of a mango tree.” The first stage of the celebrations was starting tonight.
Relatives, including some from England, were planning to stay up watching the results start to filter across the Atlantic.
Tomorrow, they will move to the neighbouring school where the chickens are breathing their last.
“It’s going to be chaotic,” said Ben Semel, from New York, who was helping organise the feast, “especially when everyone goes through the election night without sleeping.”