From White House to Kenya:Granny Obama Knows Best

She is arguably the most famous grandmother in the world today after her grandson, Barack Obama, has become US President-elect. But Sarah Hussein Obama, 86, has so far succeeded to navigate her new-found status by remaining true to herself.

In her simple abode in K'Ogelo village located within the environs of Lake Victoria - the world's second largest fresh water lake - in Western Kenya, Mama Sarah, as she is lovingly referred to by the never-ending stream of visitors to her home, talks philosophically but firmly about what she refers to as God's Will. 

"My grandson won because it was God's will... because God would have it no other way. But certainly, Barack gave his all and his immediate family, particularly his wife Michelle, kept him grounded, with their eyes never wavering from the prize. In the end, their combined effort paid off handsomely.

"What I did was to unceasingly pray that victory would be his. Now that he is going to be the President of the most powerful nation on earth, I have began praying and fasting again, pleading to God to bestow on him the wisdom and courage needed to steer the ship of statecraft with a steady hand."

The matriarch of the local Obama clan says there is good reason to believe that her future is going to brighten: the Kenya Government quickly spruced up the area around her house - a forgotten frontier with limited infrastructure - when it became clear that Barack was headed for victory. "We now have electricity in K'Ogelo and the roads have since been macadamised but what is surprising is that my home is under police protection while my children, including my grandchildren, are receiving police protection. I suppose this is all because Barack is a son of this homestead."

The Kenyan Minister for Tourism, Najib Balala, has, in fact, directed that Mama Sarah's home be declared a national monument, arguing that the world wants to know where the father of the President of the United States was born. Incidentally, the tourism industry earns Kenya's second highest foreign exchange.

Among the stream of visitors at the now famous house in K'Ogelo village was none other than Kenyan Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who has confirmed the widely-held belief here that he is a close cousin of the US President-elect.

It is felt that the Obama clan had had a premonition about Barack Obama's prospects a long time ago. On a visit to Kenya in 2006 in the capacity of a US Congress Senator, Obama visited his granny and members of his extended family at K'Ogelo. It was at that meeting that the family had handed him a memorandum, behind closed doors.

Hilda Atieno Were, a cousin privy to the contents of the memorandum, discloses that Barack was requested to assist in handling family responsibility. "Basically, we wanted him to consider providing communal help to the family, such as linking the many orphans in the family to education scholarship found in the U.S," says Were.

The Obamas hail from Luo, the country's fifth biggest community, known to practice widow inheritance, wherein a brother inherits his deceased brothers widow. However, the practice is believed to have increased the number of HIV/AIDS infections as widow inheritance is perpetuated even if the deceased had succumbed to the deadly virus. As per official figures, HIV/AIDS kills 700 people every day in Kenya, leaving in its wake a tribe of orphans. Western Kenya is the hardest hit in the country by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

While Were looks forward "to seeing him [Barack] pushing the agenda of African nations", she does not expect to benefit as an individual.

If anybody in the Obama family qualifies to talk candidly about Barack, it is his step-sister, Dr Auma Obama, with whom Barack had stayed in the late 1980s, while he was on a trip to trace his ancestral background.

Dr Obama, who now spends most of her time in the UK where she lectures at a premier university, says, "Barack is a very outgoing individual, smart, disciplined and focused. He is inherently a statesman. As his sister I can vouch for him ... Barack will do whatever it takes to mend the fractured image of the US in the eyes of the international community. He will avoid any form of unilateralism and as his short span in the U.S. Congress has shown he will win American foes to his side using the force of argument and leading by example, from the front."

Understandably, Dr Obama does not expect the US President-elect to jump at every emergency call he receives from his extended family, including from herself. "His mandate is from the American public not the extended Obama family. Barack's core business will be to win the hearts and minds of the US citizenry over and over again by delivering on his many promises. As a family we do not want to be a drag on him, if anything, we understand as a family, the responsibilities that come with high office, particularly in a country, where public office holders are expected to have impeccable integrity in the eyes of the public. So it would be foolhardy and selfish of us as a family to expect Barack to bend rules or to involve himself in any form of favoritism, so as to assist us."

The US President-elects late father was one of the beneficiaries of airlifts to the U.S. in the 1960s that targeted gifted Kenyans. He arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, in his mid-20s, when he was already married with children back home. He met the Caucasian Ann Soetoro on the island, married her in a civil service and in 1961 sired the now famous son.

A year later Obama senior left Hawaii - never to go back to his young family - to pursue further studies at the prestigious Harvard University. He returned to Kenya in the late 1960's to take up a top job in the Ministry of Economics, headed by the current President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki. It was in Kenya that Obama senior died in 1982 in a car crash. His estranged wife, who had since remarried, succumbed to cancer in 1995.

Edwin Okong'o, who has studied at the Berkley Graduate School of Journalism, in the US, suffers no illusions that Barack is a Kenyan. In an article, 'Obama-Mania Comes to Kenya' that he wrote for the 'San Francisco Chronicle' in 2007, he states, "What Obama does offer us Kenyans is something to brag about. In most of our tribes, a child belongs to the father. At a recent gathering at my uncle's home in Hayward, a friend of his told me that, although Obama did not know his father well (a fact the senator acknowledges), our traditions are bound to outweigh those of the Americans, hence, in his mind, he is indisputably a son of Kenya. ...For my bragging rights and pride, I'm willing to agree. Economically, however, Obama's future presidency will be - at best - insignificant for Kenyans." 


More by :  Tabitha Nderitu

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