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Obamatown, Kenya

In Kisumu, the birthplace of Barack Obama's father, the US president's popularity shows no signs of dwindling.

Obama’s father was a Luo, a major Kenyan tribe that is the majority in Nyanza province. Many Luo feel they have been neglected by the central government since independence. Other groups, especially the Kikuyu, have retained much of the country’s wealth and power. These were some of the grievances that boiled over in early 2008, when parts of Kisumu burned after contested presidential elections that pitted Raila Odinga, a Luo, against incumbent Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu.

Thus the calendar hanging in a barbershop near the center of town. “Two great men,” it read beneath side-by-side images of Odinga and Obama.

“There is tribalism in Kenya — that’s why Luos like him,” said Omar Karim, a young man passing through Kisumu’s minibus stand. Other Obama supporters in town weren’t sure which of the president’s policies they found appealing, but were convinced that his Nyanza roots were good enough.

“He’s my cousin, so when I heard he went to America, I was very happy,” Aoko said, perhaps describing her relationship to Obama liberally. “If one of our elders is somewhere, he can help us.”

Even here, though, there is a quality to Obama’s appeal that seems to transcend ethnic solidarity — something like what American voters saw during his campaign, a sense that he might be able to bring people together.

“We need Obama in Kenya, not the United States,” Achiem said forcefully.

The cloth-seller grinned. She and the rest of Kisumu will have to wait awhile. The president's approval ratings may have slid a bit, but it doesn't look like Obama will be moving to Kenya anytime soon.

(Read an overview of how the world views Obama one year later.)