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Obama’s Kenyan village retains audacity of hope amid tight race

Saturday October 27 2012

PHOTO | JACOB OWITI Mrs Patricia Wangui Okoth, the chairperson of Pendeza Africa, a grassroots women’s business empowerment group, says that their regular meetings hardly end without discussions about the upcoming US election and President Obama’s fortunes.

PHOTO | JACOB OWITI Mrs Patricia Wangui Okoth, the chairperson of Pendeza Africa, a grassroots women’s business empowerment group, says that their regular meetings hardly end without discussions about the upcoming US election and President Obama’s fortunes. NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JUSTUS WANGA [email protected]ionmedia.com

It has been four years since the phenomenal election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the US.

Eight days from now Americans go to the ballot in an election that will determine whether Mr Obama will retain his tenancy at White House.

Opinion polls indicate Mr Obama faces a tougher re-election battle against Mr Mitt Romney compared to his first stab at the presidency when he easily trounced his Republican party challenger John McCain.

This has made many of his Democratic Party supporters in the US cautiously optimistic about their candidate’s chances in the November 6 election.

But in Kogelo Village in Siaya County, the birthplace of his Kenyan father, the passion for the president has not died down.

The excitement is largely fuelled by pride rather than expectations of Mr Obama giving the villagers some goodies or even sending money “home”.

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“This is our son. The fact that he is the commander-in-chief of the United States is just enough reason to be proud even if he did not bring us any material things,” says Mr Jerome Ombude, 80.

Kogelo villagers have been following the election campaigns, gathering in small “strategy meetings” at the trading centres called Kamukunjis where US politics is analysed in the evenings.

Mr Gabriel Okoth, a convener of one such meetings, says they keep abreast of the issues in the US campaigns to help determine topics of discussion.

“We rely on FM radio stations in our mobile phones to follow the topical issues that both Mr Obama and his opponent talk about on the campign trail even as we go about our daily activities,” he says.

During the first presidential debate in which Mr Romney was pronounced the winner, a caucus under Mr Okoth felt that it was a tie.

“Having killed Osama Bin Laden and signs that the economy is on the right track, we feel that the President did a good job only that the pollsters were a bit generous to his opponent,” he says.

Mr Jackton Onjiko says one reason Mr Obama will be re-elected is the fear that a win for Republican nominee will lead to a military campaign against countries perceived as its enemies.

“The reason why he will win is his diplomatic and bipartisan approach to issues. Remember he made Mrs Hilary Clinton the Secretary of State even after she opposed him in the nominations for the last election. Americans are not ready for a president like Mitt Romney who is calling for more funding to the military. Why would you expand the defence budget if you are not preparing for war?” Mr Onjiko asks.

Mrs Patricia Wangui Okoth, the chairperson of Pendeza Africa, a grassroots women’s business empowerment group, also says that whenever they meet, the AOB is normally dominated by discussions about why Mr Obama must win another term in office.

“The topic consistently comes up whenever we are dispensed with the business of the day and it consumes almost an extra hour and everyone wants to give her bit of the story,” she says. “I remember this lady who said that the son of Kogelo is a ladies’ man and as such, he will win many votes among the women.”

In churches and mosques, special prayers are being held to ask God for their son’s victory.

“We know he was elected by God and we must take our united prayers and petitions to Him so he hands him another term,” Mrs Florence Otieno says.

Even his half-brother, Mr Malik Abong’o Obama, thniks that what President Obama requires now more than ever is prayer.

“The best we are doing now is to pray for him. We will not vote there because we are Kenyans yet this is an American process. If we had a choice, we would vote him to propel his stab at second term in office,” he says.

Kogelo village was thrust to international limelight by Mr Obama’s historic victory in 2008.

So famous had Kogelo become that almost everyone from the larger Siaya district took to claiming shared ancestry with the new American president.

The celebrations that followed the election of the world’s most powerful man lasted several weeks.

Expectations reigned high

This time round, however, opinion is divided on the benefits of an Obama presidency to this village.

While some residents are talking of a diminished thrill compared to the atmosphere which proceeded the elections in 2008, others are happy that they have had a fair share of fringe benefits from America.

“We set the bar so high but unfortunately we have realised that these are two different countries – Kenya and America – and that for Mr Obama, the interests of his country (America) come first,” Mr Onjiko says.

Despite feeling disillusioned, Mr Onjiko still wants President Obama re-elected.

He also hopes that Mr Obama might change approach and channel more funds to Kenya if he is re-elected.

“The sense of pride that he has roots here is the reason I want him to continue. The American voters should elect him as he has served them well. He could also change his approach and bring more help here or even visit us,” he adds.

Mr Sila Juma Oduol, who repairs motorcycles at Kogelo trading centre, reaches out to the supernatural to explain the village’s obsession with Mr Obama.

Aside from the fact that good tidings have come with Mr Obama’s ascension to power, many children born since he became Illinois senator in 2004 have been named after him.

“The name is associated with good things and good luck so that every couple who gets a child, male or female has named them after him,” says Mr Oduol.