NAIROBI, Kenya For many across Africa and the world, Barack Obama’s election seals America’s reputation as a land of staggering opportunity.
NAIROBI, Kenya For many across Africa and the world, Barack Obama’s election seals America’s reputation as a land of staggering opportunity. "If it were possible for me to get to the United States on my bicycle, I would," said Joseph Ochieng, a 36-year-old carpenter who lives in Kenya’s sprawling Kibera shantytown, a maze of tin-roofed shacks and dirt roads. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday Thursday in the country of Obama’s late father, allowing celebrations to continue through the night and into a second day. From Europe and Asia to the Middle East, many expressed amazement that the U.S. could overcome centuries of racial strife and elect an African-American president. Scenes of jubilation broke out in the western Kenya village of Kogelo, where many of Obama’s Kenyan relatives still live. People sang, danced in the streets and wrapped themselves in U.S. flags. A group of exuberant residents picked up the president-elect’s half brother Malik and carried him through the village. "Unbelievable!" Malik Obama shouted, leading the family in chanting, "Obama’s coming, make way!" "He’s in!" said Rachel Ndimu, 23, a Kenyan business student who joined hundreds of others for an election party that began at 5 a.m. Wednesday at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger. "I think this is awesome, and the whole world is backing him," Ndimu said as people raised glasses of champagne. Obama was born in Hawaii, where he spent most of his childhood raised by his white mother. He barely knew his father. But for the world’s poorest continent, the ascent of a man of African heritage to America’s highest office was a source of immeasurable pride and hope. Tributes rolled in from two of Africa’s groundbreaking leaders. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first Black president, said Obama gave the world the courage to dream. "Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place," Mandela said in a letter of congratulations. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf — the first woman elected to head an African country — said she did not expect to see a Black American president in her lifetime. "All Africans now know that if you persevere, all things are possible," she said. In Indonesia, where Obama lived as a child, hundreds of students at his former elementary school erupted in cheers when he was declared winner, pouring into the courtyard where they hugged, danced in the rain and chanted "Obama! Obama!" In Britain, The Sun newspaper borrowed from Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing in describing Obama’s election as "one giant leap for mankind." Yet celebrations were often tempered by sobering concerns that Obama faces momentous global challenges — wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the elusive hunt for peace in the Middle East and a financial crisis. Europe, where Obama is overwhelmingly popular, is one region that looked eagerly to an Obama administration for a revival in warm relations after the Bush government’s chilly rift with the continent over the Iraq war. "At a time when we have to confront immense challenges together, your election raises great hopes in France, in Europe and in the rest of the world," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a congratulations letter to Obama. Nicaragua’s leftist leader Daniel Ortega is another who is celebrating Obama’s victory. "Really it’s a miracle that the United States for the first time in its history has a Black president who has shown he is willing to dialogue with Latin American countries and is open to reviewing free trade agreements," Ortega said Wednesday. Skepticism, however, was high in the Muslim world. The Bush administration alienated the Middle East by mistreating prisoners at its detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and inmates at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison — human rights violations also condemned worldwide. Some Iraqis, who have suffered through five years of a war ignited by the United States and its allies, said they would believe positive change when they saw it. "Obama’s victory will do nothing for the Iraqi issue nor for the Palestinian issue," said Muneer Jamal, a Baghdad resident. "I think all the promises Obama made during the campaign will remain mere promises." But many around the world found hope in Obama’s international roots. "What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had," said Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbuck’s in Bangkok.in Bangkok. AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.