JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Congratulations on President Obama’s reelection flooded in from leaders across Africa on Wednesday, but the sweetest words of all came from a 90-year-old Kenyan villager.
Sarah Onyango Obama is the president’s step-grandmother, from the village of Kogelo in western Kenya, where the president’s father grew up. She said the president had won because of his love for the people.
"I knew he was going to win," she told Kenyan media Wednesday. "The reason why he has won is because God has given it to him. We are happy for the victory and are embracing everyone who visits our home. My grandson is loving and down to earth. I ask him to work for the people that voted for him."
She is the third wife of Obama’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, while the president is descended from the second wife.
Hundreds of people in the normally sleepy village stayed up all night watching a big-screen TV with U.S. election coverage, erupting in celebration early Wednesday as news of Obama’s victory broke. People danced in the streets, sang songs praising Obama and waved American flags, according to reports from the scene.
Visitors had swarmed the village in the days before the vote. The president’s half-brother, Malik Abongo Obama, organized nightly prayer vigils in the days leading up to the election. As spirits ran high waiting for the results Tuesday night, local comedians ran a mock election and declared Obama the winner.
Kogelo village has changed since a visit from then-Sen. Obama in 2006, with electricity installed, roads paved and a hotel built to deal with the influx of tourists, who flock to meet Sarah Obama (by appointment only) and see the grave of Obama’s father.
Villagers said Wednesday they hoped Obama would come back to his ancestral village during his second term, Kenyan television reported.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said that although the U.S. presidential election race had been tight, Obama’s victory testified to Americans’ faith in his leadership.
"I commend the American people for showing their confidence in your leadership. Kenya, as always, is proud of our association with you. We look forward to the deepening of relations between our two countries during your second term in office," Kibaki said in a statement.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Obama’s victory had electrified the world.
"It is a tribute to the people of the United States that they have reelected an African American president amidst an intensely trying economic environment that would have tested any incumbent. It is therefore also an outstanding personal triumph for President Obama," Odinga said.
He said Obama’s victory would "reignite faith worldwide, but especially in Africa, in the restorative capacity of democracy to deliver change and discard entrenched divisions."
South African President Jacob Zuma, who has himself been campaigning in the run-up to a December leadership vote in his party, sent congratulations.
"We value our relations with the United States and look forward to strengthening bilateral cooperation in the years to come," he said in a statement.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also congratulated Obama and added that he hoped the American election would give millions of people across the globe a better appreciation of democracy, Nigerian media reported.
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: Sarah Obama, step-grandmother to President Obama, revels in the U.S. presidential election results with members of her family Wednesday in the hamlet of Kogelo in western Kenya. Credit: Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images