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Obama Family in Kenya Watches US Vote

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KATY POWNALL | January 8, 2008 11:14 PM EST | AP

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KOGELO, Kenya — Seated on plastic chairs surrounded by chickens and barefoot children, Barack Obama's Kenyan relatives listened to the radio Tuesday for news of how their favorite son was doing in the New Hampshire primary.

The early results were encouraging, bringing a whoop of satisfaction from the candidate's uncle. "Ah, that's wonderful," Said Obama declared, breaking into a wide grin. "But I don't want to jump just yet."

Results of the New Hampshire voting didn't become clear until well after midnight in Kenya, with Obama finishing a close second to Hillary Clinton. "I am still fired up and ready to go," he told cheering supporters.

Kogelo, the western Kenyan village of Barack Obama's father, has been spared the political and ethnic violence that has erupted in Kenya after last month's disputed presidential election. But it's just 90 minutes' drive from a town where torched and looted buildings bear testimony to the clashes that have left more than 500 people dead, and the turmoil in Kenya, as well as his nephew's political success, were on Said Obama's mind.

While the dispute is political, violence has pitted other tribes _ such as the Obamas' Luo _ against the Kikuyu of President Mwai Kibaki, who have long dominated politics and the economy in Kenya.

If Barack Obama were in Kenya today, he would "work with the leadership to bring them to a round table and find a solution to the problems that have been ravaging the country," his uncle said.

In fact, Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed the senator spoke to opposition leader Raila Odinga for about five minutes Monday before going into a rally in New Hampshire.

Odinga, a Luo, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that Obama's father was his uncle, and that Obama called him "in the midst of his campaigning ... to express his concern and to say that he is also going to call President Kibaki so that Kibaki agrees to find a negotiated, satisfactory solution to this problem."

Gibbs said Odinga and Obama's father are from the same tribe, though he was not aware they are related.

Obama, speaking Tuesday in New Hampshire, said he urged that "all the leaders there, regardless of their position on the election tell their supporters to stand down, to desist with the violence and resolve in a peaceful way in accordance with Kenyan law."

Obama was coordinating his efforts with the State Department, his advisers said, and has discussed the situation with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

He has also spoken with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, calling him during last week's Iowa caucuses in between satellite interviews with local Iowa stations. Tutu has been in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, trying to secure an end to the violence.

On his last visit to Kenya, in August 2006, Obama touched on themes not normally debated openly here, criticizing the high-level corruption and the tribal politics that have dominated the country since its 1963 independence from Britain. Both have played a role in the post-election violence.

"Very many people sat up and listened, but the government didn't like it," Said Obama said of his nephew's speech, which was televised nationwide. "It touched a nerve they didn't want touched. The corruption is endemic here and tribalism cannot escape your eyes _ you just have to look at the government ministries."

In his speech, Barack Obama said: "Corruption is not a new problem; it's not just a Kenyan or African problem. It's a human problem. ... While corruption is a problem we all share, here in Kenya it is a crisis robbing an honest people of the opportunities they have fought for and deserve."

"Ethnic-based tribal politics have to stop," he said, to applause from university students and staff.

Obama's relatives, gathered Tuesday in the family compound at the end of a dusty dirt road lined with mimosa and mango trees, listened for news of their American relative's election fortunes.

Inside his grandmother's cinderblock home, framed photos of Obama's 2006 visit and an earlier one in 1987 lined the walls, alongside a signed election poster from his Senate race. Sarah Hussein Obama, wearing a brightly patterned dress and sandals decorated with shells and beads, sat in a wooden chair in the immaculate living room, waiting for news of her grandson.

Obama's father, also named Barack Obama, won a scholarship to a university in Hawaii, where he met and married the candidate's American mother. The two separated and Obama's father returned to Kenya, where he worked as a government economist until he died in a car crash in 1982. His white-tiled grave is located in a secluded corner of the family compound.

The younger Obama was mostly raised in Hawaii and did not know his father well, but his presidential bid has sparked excitement in Kenya. Thousands were drawn to his appearances during his 2006 visit.

Said Obama said his nephew "has proved to be a beacon of hope here and shown that even in difficult circumstances you can make it to the highest height of achievement with just determination and hard work."

If Obama is elected, he would improve relations between Africa and America because he had his roots in Africa, his uncle said.

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Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report from New Hampshire.