Obama’s grandmother steals the show at event

Monday December 1 2008

Ms Sarah Hussein Obama, grandmother of US

Ms Sarah Hussein Obama, grandmother of US President-elect Barack Obama, cuts a tape to officially open a children’s park during the World Aids Day marathon at Jomo Kenyatta sports ground in Kisumu on Monday. On her right is Ms Betty Okero, an Aids activist. World Aids Day celebrations were marked in various towns countrywide. Photo/JACOB OWITI 

By WALTER MENYA

Mama Sarah Obama, grandmother of American President-elect Barack Obama, was on Monday at the centre of World Aids Day activities in Kisumu where she flagged off an awareness marathon.

As soon as residents got wind that Mama Sarah was at the Jomo Kenyatta Grounds, a huge crowd converged.

A jovial Mama Sarah, who arrived in a two-car convoy escorted by female security personnel, waved cheerfully at the crowds. Her security detail had a torrid time trying to stop the excited crowd from shaking her hand.

“Kogelo ber kata an be angima (Kogelo is fine and am also doing well),” she told the crowd.

She, however, sidestepped a question about her travel plans to the US for Mr Obama’s inauguration.

Earlier, the 86-year-old Mama Sarah, who slipped into Kisumu quietly on Sunday, had flagged off the World Aids Marathon at seven in the morning.

Organisers said that they had chosen Mama Sarah because of her high profile.

They also said the fact that President-elect Obama had undergone HIV counselling and testing in Kisumu on his 2006 trip was more reason to choose her.

“There is a lot of interest in the Obama family,” said Betty Okero of the Civil Society Network, one of the organisers.

“If her presence here today will help reduce new infections and give hope, we welcome that,” said Ms Okero.

Ms Alie Eleveld of Safe Water and Aids Project said Mr Obama’s involvement with the World Aids Marathon was the main reason for choosing Mama Sarah to flag it off.

“Barack Obama has been a great supporter of the World Aids Marathon, so we thought it would be a good gesture to invite his granny,” said Ms Eleveld.

Speaking to the Nation after the function, Mama Sarah said that she was happy to be part of the event.

“I feel greatly privileged to be invited because my grandson is very concerned about the ravages of HIV,” she said.

Pictures of President-elect Obama taken at the VCT clinic during his 2006 visit are extensively being used to drive the campaign against HIV and Aids.

Staff at the clinic began distributing the posters in the run-up to the US election.

On election night, the VCT clinic set up a temporary facility at the Kogelo dispensary where villagers kept up with events in the US on a giant TV screen.

A Liverpool VCT clinic official said the events were geared towards reducing HIV infections in Nyanza Province.

The province leads in HIV prevalence rates in the country at 15 per cent, double the national rate of 7.4 per cent, according to the latest Kenya Aids Index Survey by the National Aids/STI Control Programme.

The survey further found that 1.4 million adults in Kenya are living with the virus with Nyanza contributing the highest percentage.

“She is very supportive because she knows HIV and Aids is a killer. She believes in prevention and giving hope to those who are living with the virus,” said Ms Okero of Mama Sarah.