Obama: Lowering soaring Kenyan expectations

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PRETORIA, South Africa — In this country, Sen. Barack Obama is having trouble getting a meeting with the president. When he gets to Kenya in a few days, his deceased father’s homeland, Obama will be treated practically as if he were a head of state.

“Now, I just have to remind everyone that I’m not a Kenyan politician,” Obama said Tuesday.

PRETORIA, South Africa — In this country, Sen. Barack Obama is having trouble getting a meeting with the president. When he gets to Kenya in a few days, his deceased father’s homeland, Obama will be treated practically as if he were a head of state.

“Now, I just have to remind everyone that I’m not a Kenyan politician,” Obama said Tuesday.

The Illinois Democrat sought to lower soaring expectations — from extended family members to politicians from the Luo tribe of his father — to people who live in his family’s impoverished province in western Kenya.

“No matter what happens there is always going to be some level of disappointment,” said Obama in response to a question from the U.S. press corps traveling with him.

He last traveled to the Nyanza province 14 years ago — already a success by any measure in the village since he already had a Harvard law degree. Now it’s much, much more.

“I’m going there as a United States senator, but just personally this gives me an opportunity actually to reconnect and find out what is going on and what folks need.

“My anticipation is I will be in a position to help in the future in terms of projects and ideas that they want to pursue.”

Obama donated $14,000 to a project in the Nyanza province to care for HIV/AIDS orphans, and a stop there is on his schedule.

He realizes that members of his extended family may feel entitled to share in his fortune — a book he wrote centering on his travel to Kenya to connect with his roots has made Obama a multimillionaire.

“There are a couple of family members that I am very close to. There are all sorts of extended cousins and uncles that I don’t know very well who I am sure would like some sort of assistance. It is not something that I would be able to provide.

“So in that sense I would not be surprised if there are some disappointments there.”

The Kenyan press has been writing advance stories on Obama’s trip for weeks. He has a visit with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki locked in.

In Pretoria on Tuesday, Obama held a series of private events and speculated later in the day that any hope for a meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki was dashed by critical comments he made on Monday about how the administration was handling the HIV/AIDS crisis. He also canceled a Congo side trip, with violence there escalating as the country heads toward a presidential runoff election.

With a Kenyan presidential election coming up in 2007, Obama’s visit comes in the context of ripening Kenyan campaigns. Politicians from his Luo tribe may try to use Obama to leverage their own campaigns in a country where politics are dominated by ethnic or tribal voting blocs.

“What’s important is that as much as possible, my presence is not hijacked by politicians there as a means of promoting their own campaigns or agendas. Particularly with the Luo tribe, potentially,” Obama said.

The Obama family in Kenya formed a committee to coordinate the return of their U.S. kin and even signed on a lawyer to help.

Copyright 2006, Digital Chicago Inc.

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