Kenyan church leaders have hailed the election of Senator Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America, saying it is a positive turn for Africa that can help steer good governance on the continent - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
"I want congratulate Obama. I think his winning will bring hope and healing to the whole world," said Anglican Bishop Joseph Wasonga. "His election has shown that America is truly democratic."
Obama will be the first mixed-race president in the United States. He was born in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and a Kenyan father.
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia sent a letter from Geneva to Obama congratulating him as "a leader not only in the United States, but in the hopes and dreams of so many people across the globe". Kobia, who is himself a Kenyan, wrote, "the really hard part is just beginning, but do remember that our minds and hearts are with you."
In Kogelo village, in the Siaya district of western Kenya, where the U.S. president-elect's father came from, hundreds of local people converged to celebrate with Obama's Kenyan grandmother and other members of the extended family. Clan members were preparing to slaughter cattle and chickens for a feast.
"It is a positive turn for Africa," Wasonga told Ecumenical News International from his diocese of Maseno West. "He has allowed a school to be named after him. We hope he will find ways of supporting it."
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared 5 November a national public holiday in Kenya soon after Republican Party presidential contender John McCain conceded defeat. In the capital Nairobi, Kenyans marched and danced through the streets to sirens and whistles.
"We are praying that the voters in the U.S. may realise that there is no greater person than Obama in America, and he deserves to be elected," Pentecostal Pastor William Otieno had told journalists the day before the U.S. election, as people converged on Kogelo to pray for a win by Obama. One Kenyan remarked, "It is almost as if we are a state of the U.S.A."
Some Kenyan church leaders say they hope Obama will push for good governance in Africa and help stabilise countries on the continent that are in turmoil.
"Overall, it will be positive for Africa. I hope he will be able to challenge bad governance in Africa," said Bishop Wasonga. "As if as an America president, if he can put his weight on the demand for good governance in Africa that can be good."
The bishop referred to problems in Zimbabwe, political developments in South Africa and in Kenya, where despite the formation of a national unity government, the ruling alliance has yet to settle in.
In South Africa, the Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, a member of parliament and president of the African Christian Democratic Party, described Obama's election as a lesson to Africa.
"African leaders would do well to learn from this election to accept outright wins by opposition parties in elections and hand over the reins with grace," said Meshoe. "The ACDP hopes his win will improve relations between America and the African continent."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]