American tourists are lining up in noticeable
numbers to take the Kenya Presidential Heritage Safari -- an ambitious travel
agency’s tour of President-Elect Barack Obama’s ancestral homeland. The idea of
supplementing a popular 11-day Kenyan
game park excursion with a vicarious day-trip jaunt to the Lake Victoria
village of Nyang’oma Kogelo, where Mr. Obama’s father was raised, is the
brainchild of South African-born travel
agent Kenneth Hieber.Hieber founded the New York bureau 2 Afrika
14 years ago.He says that Kogelo, near the western city of Kisumu,is no longer a sleepy fishing village, and
the popular side-trip could open up a new dimension in Kenyan – US relations.
who have come back, that I’ve already sent across to Kogelo, have been met with
such warmth and such grace and such charm that it’s almost been more of an
impact than the actual safari – and that is saying a lot because taking
American travelers and putting them into the African bush-veldt in the middle
of nowhere, with the enormity of the animal kingdom, giving them something else
to hold onto now, which is the heritage of the president-elect, is just such an
added highlight that it really is touching people in a very positive way,” he
tourism climate is improving slowly since a year ago, when Kenya’s hotly
contested presidential election deteriorated into widespread ethnic violence that
was not resolved until last March. After
followers of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) challenger Raila Odinga accepted a
unity government under incumbent
President Mwai Kibaki with Odinga in place as Prime Minister, an economic
recovery effort has been underway.During
the year, Kenyans have watched with great pride and enthusiasm as the
American-born son of Kogelo’s Barack Obama, Sr. defeated a field of US
presidential candidates and ascended to the White House.Kenneth Hieber says pride in Mr. Obama, Jr.’s
political success has kindled a desire by American tourists bound for Africa,
who want to experience the homestead that gave rise to their new president.
was very vulnerable a year ago, and people shied away and tended to steer more
toward Tanzania. Now, of course, that matters have settled dramatically in
Kenya, and since there is an ancestry of the president-elect of the United
States that stretches back to Kogelo, Kenya is suddenly full face on the map,
and everybody is clamoring to get onto those programs,” he says.
says that the Obama celebrity has changed the small-scale nature of tourism in
Western Kenya dramatically.
local people of Kogelo are anticipating flocks of people coming into the
area.I don’t for a moment think that
people will go just to Kisumu and Kogelo based on the ancestry of the
president-elect.But I certainly think
people will add this as a tag-on to any particular safari that they may be
doing in Kenya already.It’s easily
accessible.It’s inexpensive…at the
moment.And I do believe that people
would feel the need to go to the ancestral homeland up on the banks of Lake
Victoria before returning back from a safari,” he pointed out.
far, says Hieber, the booming business has not spoiled local residents, who he
says are kind and hospitable.Souvenirs
are everywhere, however, and the Obama homestead, still occupied by the
president-elect’s step grandmother, Sarah Obama (known as “Mama Sarah”), is the
has got to get prior permission, for personal reasons, to enter the
homestead.And I would think that she
(Mama Sarah) would permit people coming in until she just got tired of it, or
until the cash cow dried up,” Hieber counseled.
far, Kenyan government has not kept up with demands for broadening regional
infrastructure in the face of the tourist onslaught.Roads have not been widened to accommodate
the increasing traffic, and Hieber says the Nairobi government is essentially
taking a wait-and-see approach to the Obama phenomenon.
came as such a surprise to the Kenyans themselves, delighted as they are.But the government really hasn’t stepped up
to the plate inasmuch as going ahead and creating a new infrastructure for much
tourism coming in.I think they see it
as a bit of a – dare I say it, 'pie-in-the-sky' movement.It will have a huge impact, and in time will
just die off.So I think their focus is
on other areas of the country as opposed to Kogelo right now,” he said.
tourists hoping to interact with members of the extended Obama family that
lives in Nyang’oma Kogelo, Hieber has some words of advice.
not sure.This would be hearsay if
people said that they’ve actually met any of the relatives because everyone in
the area is claiming now to be a relative of sort by marriage, by
whatever.So everybody is jumping onto
their claim of fame for the moment.I
think that the residents of Kogelo are beyond themselves with excitement,” he
Kenneth Hieber’s 2 Afrika tourist
agency’s web site (http://www.2afrika.com)
lists more than a dozen safari tours to Kenya and Tanzania.His Presidential Heritage Safari was
conceived as an add-on to one of the many alternatives, and as long as the new
US president remains popular, he is hopeful the add-on will play a useful role
in promoting close ties between the Kenyan and American peoples.