/ 30 October 2008

Going down Obama boulevard

Obama’s appeal rivals soccer in Uganda – and he’s had at least one road named after him. But some locals fear the US will play a last card to prevent him from winning, writes Pius Sawa

Obama Boulevard lies 130km west of Kampala. The road was named after Obama by a local businessman, Frank Gashumba, and his neighbours, who conducted the ‘official” naming ceremony themselves. Many roads in the Kenyan countryside are named by influential locals – some of whom undertake the tarring of the roads too.

Ask who the senator from Illinois is and nobody will be able to tell you. But talk of Obama and even a primary school pupil knows who you’re talking about.

The man hailing from Kisumu in Kenya is seen as the biblical Moses whose virtues include saving them from the headache of acquiring entry to US. ”When Obama wins, I will have to go to America,” dreams one male youth working in a saloon who has several times been denied an American visa.

In Kampala, Obama stickers are on sale everywhere. There are T-shirts of Obama with the words ‘Change you can believe in”. I have a key ring with Obama’s photo and the words ‘Barack Obama Our Hero”.

The Ugandans for Obama Foundation has 100 members and was launched in January this year. Ugandans must pay close attention to the US politics, says the foundation’s founder, Bernard Sabiiti. He believes that, as Kenya’s neighbour, Uganda will benefit from what Obama will surely do for his country of origin.

Others are sceptical about Obama’s chances of success. ”Americans will not allow Obama to rule them,” says Stella Nambuya, a politician and women’s rights activist. ‘I have read American history and I know them very well. They have the last card they play to ensure that they are not ruled by someone who is not a true American.”
”I just have a feeling they will assassinate him,” a female journalist student fears.

‘It is our prayer that what happened to his brother Raila Odinga in the Kenyan elections will not happen to Obama,” says Dr Abed Bwanika, president of The People’s Democratic Party. Like Obama, Odinga comes from Kisumu; and as in the last US election, results were manipulated to prevent the rightful winner from assuming power.

But tune to any radio station and listen to the listeners commenting about Obama. Many of the motorcycle riders commonly called bodabodas are calling themselves Obama. ‘Any normal African must support Obama – unless one is not a true African,” one Ugandan says. ‘For me it is just a surprise. From nowhere this man comes up and he is just wonderful,” says a taxi passenger.

Ugandans usually delay going to bed only if Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea are playing. But people have been glued to their TVs and radios for the Obama/McCain debates. And come the next morning in town, at shopping places and at work places, everyone has their own quote from Obama.

Pius Sawa is a reporter and features producer at Radio Sapientia in Kampala