Nairobi, Kenya - Kenyans are closely watching the US presidential election, with two groups in particular rooting for each of the candidates.
US President Barack Obama’s reelection bid is preoccupying the people in Nyang’oma Kogelo, his Kenyan father’s home village, as challenger Mitt Romney’s run is invigorating Mormons in the East African country.
Mr. Romney’s candidatcy has thrust the Christian group into the spotlight here, with its leaders on Monday unveiling a website called Kenya Mormon Newsroom to help answer questions ignited by the American political process. Leaders say the church maintains a firm political neutrality.
“In the most recent past, questions have been asked about who we are. The reasons is we have a member of the church running as president of the United State of America,” said Elder Hesbon Usi, an official here with the Mormons' Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “Since people do not have the right source of information and truth they are looking for, a lot tend to go to other websites that are misleading. They get information that is not correct.”
Elder Thomas Hatch, a former Utah state senator who now serves as the church’s deputy director of public affairs for the region, said questions the church has encountered have prompted leaders to share more through a network of websites.
Hatch says Mormons would relish the idea of a Romney presidency, hoping it would bring the church out of obscurity. However, he cautioned that there could be many downsides as well as upsides, since presidents have to make tough decisions.
“If Mr. Romney is seen as a Mormon president, there could be retaliation by other countries against our church and missions,” he says.
Meanwhile, in Nyang’oma Kogelo, the western Kenyan village that is home to the president's step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, the community is organizing daily prayers for Obama, with special prayers reported in churches and mosques. Often gathering in small groups to listen to news and discussions on FM radios from mobile phones, the residents say they have learned Obama was facing a stiff challenge.
“We would like to organize bigger meetings to show support, but we fear the security is not good. Terrorists may attack us because of our Obama links. The threats and attacks in Kenya make use very cautious,” says Vitalis Ogombe, the chairman of a community group called the Obama Kogelo Cultural Committee.
For them, the interest in the American election is driven by pride more than economic or material gains, since Obama is viewed as a grandson there.
“We are proud because we have seen he can make a good global leader. People now know us globally because of him. We are praying that he continues,” says Mr. Ogombe.
But since Obama’s election in 2008, Kogelo can also count material gains. Electricity has been installed in the area and infrastructure improved. Micro-finance organizations and nongovernmental organizations have also moved here to help improve the community’s living standards. The local people say they are better since he became president.
For Jesse Mugambi of the University of Nairobi, America foreign policy on Africa remains the same, irrespective of whoever is the "boss."
“The voters out there will decide what is good for them, and Kenyans will put up with whoever wins. That is what democracy demands,” he says.
Some analysts have also considered an Obama loss. Charles Onyango-Obbo, in an opinion in the Daily Nation today, analyzed why an Obama loss would be good for him and the world.
“Obama has the energy and smarts to be an influential international citizen and non-state actor to join Clinton and Gates as the non-white face at the top of international NGO priesthood. To do that, he has first to lose the election,” wrote Mr. Onyango-Obbo.