Almost eight years ago, a small village near Lake Victoria – the world’s ninth largest continental lake – woke up to news that the son of one of their own, then deceased, had been elected president of the United States.
As the Americans went to the polls, the people of Kogelo conducted their own mock election complete with ballot papers and poll officials. When the results were announced, their son had won with an overwhelming majority of votes.
In the months that followed, hundreds of visitors – journalists, researchers, photographers and curious souls from all over the world poured into the village and mingled with locals who had been gathering daily to pay homage at a village that had suddenly become an overnight sensation.
The Kenya government moved in speedily to clear the bushes. Access roads were paved, a clinic was built, and security officers were brought in to guard the family of a famous son domiciled thousands of miles away.
Sensing an opportunity, local entrepreneurs rushed to banks and took loans to build hotels to accommodate the visitors. Cafes and restaurants sprung up to feed the hungry, and the once sleepy village came to life in a big way. One hotel, Kogelo Village Resort, even registered with TripAdvisor – a worldwide booking agency – to make it easier for discerning travelers to spot it online and make reservations.
The Kisumu Airport which had been under-utilized for years experienced increased activity as big and small planes landed to the amazement and cheers of locals.
Yes, the son we are talking about is none other than Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States, and Kogelo is the village where his father, also Barack Obama, was born and interned.
Since then, women who bear children name them Barack Obama, or Barack, or simply Obama.
As the President settled in to govern the world’s most powerful nation, villagers at Kogelo waited anxiously for his return once again for a thanks-giving homage. They called him “our son” and expected him to bring Obama-dollars to transform the once bucolic village into a metropolis like those in the US. They called that “development.”
But to them “development” also meant paying school fees for members of the extended family, helping with household expenses and participating in harambee (self-help initiatives), as well as helping in funding such rituals as weddings, funerals, and dowries. That is the Kenyan way.
In 2015, Obama returned to Kenya but this time as the President of America. He was welcomed with pomp and warmth by Kenyans but he didn’t go to Kogelo unlike in 2006. Instead, he invited the family to Nairobi for a sumptuous dinner at a big hotel.
That gesture was appreciated, but some could not understand why he would not go to Kogelo at least to visit his father’s grave, or even maybe, to tour the clinic where he got tested for HIV. They also thought a sojourn to the Senator Barack Obama Secondary School would be fitting and motivating to the students. But official duties did not allow him to do that.
In a few weeks, Obama will exit the White House and become a distinguished citizen of America and the World. Hopefully, after that he will have time to make an extended visit to his fatherland.
Whatever happens Barack Hussein Obama remains a star in Kenya and a role model for people around the globe.
And that is my say.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.