Library exhibits Kenya’s response to Obama

Americans don’t have a holiday commemorating the election of America’s first black president, but Kenyans do. The president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, declared Nov. 6 a national holiday to celebrate President-elect Barack Obama.

Africa’s response to Obama’s victory is the theme of an exhibit at Northwestern’s Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies titled “Africa’s Response to Barack Obama.”

The exhibit currently comprises two cases: one in the exhibit area in the entrance to the Main Library and one in the entrance to the Herskovits Library on the building’s fifth floor. Another display case located opposite the one currently in the Herskovits Library is scheduled to be completed by the end of this week.

Many Kenyans in Kogelo, the birthplace of the president-elect’s father, Barack Obama Sr., stayed up until the wee hours of the morning watching the election results come in on a large TV brought to the remote village for the occasion. Kenyans have welcomed Obama’s victory as a source of national pride because of his Kenyan heritage.

“Many Africans see it as a symbol that can be adopted for change in their own countries,” said David Easterbrook, curator of the Herskovits Library.

On the front page of the Nov. 7-13 issue of the Mail and Guardian, a South African newspaper, Obama’s head appears on the body of Superman, accompanied by an article titled “US Slays its Demons: Yes We (Also) Can.”

“The lesson is (that) similar movements for change in Africa can also succeed,” Easterbrook said.

Less than a week after the election, a political cartoon appeared in the Saturday Nation, a Kenyan newspaper, with a person saying “Obama, Obama, Obama, yet you can’t vote for somebody who is not your tribe!” The cartoon is on display at the Herskovits Library.

To many Africans, Obama’s victory represents an unprecedented triumph over racial barriers.

“As a government, country and people, we consider this to be a defining moment in our history and the history of the world,” said Alfred Mutua, Kenyan public communications secretary and government spokesman, on Kenya’s communications Web site.. “Things will never be the same again and we can walk with our heads lifted higher and our hearts full of the spirit of success and improvement in the way the world operates.”

Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga said in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper, that although he doesn’t expect special charity for Kenya, he hopes that Obama’s victory will lead to an increase in trade between the two countries. He also said he hopes that the win will lead to growth in Kenya’s tourism industry.

The exhibit includes a collection of newspapers, DVDs, a poster, a T-shirt and a bumper sticker that reads “Obama is Unbwogable,” designed by Lorna Abungu. The term was coined by GidiGidi and MajiMaji , a Kenyan hip hop duo, about five years ago in their song titled “Unbwogable,” according to Easterbrook.

“Unbwogable” roughly means unbeatable or unstoppable.

The exhibit will run through Dec. 31. For more information about the exhibit, call the Herskovits Library at (847) 491-4549.

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