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.
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 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 letter to Obama.
Obama’s victory also was greeted with cheers in Mexico, where former Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda wrote in the Reforma newspaper that the presidency represents a chance for Mexico to remake its relationship with the United States.
“Obama’s win … opens to Mexico an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself in the world because it will be infinitely easier to be a neighbor, ally and friend of the United States with Obama,” he wrote.
Americans living abroad, too, basked in the glow of a victory hoped for by most of the world.
“I’m proud of being an American today,” said Jody Suden, a mother of two in London. “It’s such a shift from the way things have been.”