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Barack Obama Embraced by Residents of Father’s Village in Kenya

Senator Obama, who has roots in Kenya, is the first African American president of the United States. Residents of Nyang’oma-Kogelo village in Kenya’s western Nyanza Province embrace him as a native son. They will be watching with interest as he is sworn in. Reporter Ajanga Khayesi tells us about their reaction.

Nyang’oma-Kogelo Village, in Kenya’s Siaya district, is the home of Mr. Obama’s father, and its residents claim his son as their own.

Kogelo is about 60 kilometers northwest of Kisumu, the capital of Nyanza Province. The village is inhabited by the Luo people. Most are peasants living in houses with walls made of mud and roofs made of sheets of iron.

It’s a 30 km ride by motorbike taxi from Kisumu town along Bondo road to the Nyang’oma market. The taxis charge two US dollars per person, much more than most Kogelo residents earn in a day.

The famous Obama family home lies 500 meters from Nyang’oma market, behind Kogelo primary and Senator Obama secondary schools.

Seated on a traditional three-legged stool under a mango tree in his compound is community leader John Onyango.

His compound consists of a main house and three huts for his sons. He complains about the heat and wind. A long dry spell has left the crops withering on the farms. Some sheep graze in the shrubs and among the sparse trees behind the huts.

Onyango describes a typical day in the village:

"Daily life," he says, "begins at around 5: 00 am with wives accompanying daughters ten kilometers down the stream to fetch water. Farmers cultivate the ancestral piece of land where maize, beans, cassava, millet and sorghum are planted for domestic consumption. The rate of poverty here is high. Some villagers work in the neighborhood as casual laborers, digging, weeding or harvesting crops to earn a living. Travelers trek five kilometers to board vehicles on the main road."

He says modernity and tradition sit side by side in Kogelo:

"Residents," he says, "no longer stage wrestling, raiding or hunting for wild animals. The youth prefer disco dancing, particularly Ohangla music, a traditional style that has been modified with guitars, keyboards and other modern instruments. Residents still observe very strong Luo traditions including marrying many wives, inheriting widows, building houses, sharing family property among sons, protecting your family and educating children."

Barack Obama’s picture is everywhere in Kogelo – including the walls of shops at Nyang’oma market. It’s a good business for Leornida Achieng, who says there’s a closeness between Luo and Americans:

"The image of Senator Obama," she says, "became very common in the locality on T-Shirts, calendars, CDs, DVDs. Along the main road some public vehicles are christened Obama with many others displaying his presidential campaign portrait. Kogelo Secondary School changed its name to Senator Obama Secondary school in 2006."

"Although the American flags are not flying here," she says, "Kenyans and [Americanis] are friends. The US government and US people ran many projects in the Lakeland region especially through the churches. So many Luos are living in US."

Muslims and Christians live side by side in Kogelo. Some families include both, including the Obamas, have both.

The Obama family here in Kenya is large. The family compound in Kogelo includes the grave of Obama’s late grandfather, Hussein Onyango, who was born in 1870 and died in 1975. Tom Omondi, who is boarding a motorcycle taxi in Nyang’oma market, describes the family:

"They are devoted people," he says,"hard working, and big-hearted for charitable work. In 1955, Barack Obama, Sr., donated free text books and other learning materials to Kogelo primary school. I was in class six at the time."The village is in dire need of financial support, clean water, electricity roads, medical facilities and better schools. Immediately after Obama won the presidential election, the Kenyan government began constructing roads and electricity. Water access was extended to the grandparents’ home.

Some expect the Obama administration to also contribute to extensive development and income generating projects.

Mama Sarah Obama disagrees. She is heading a family delegation at the inauguration that includes three uncles and four aunts. She is warning the public against unreasonable expectations.

"Kenyans," she says, "should understand that Obama is the president for the Americans, but not a leader in Africa or Kenya. Obama will work under the US government policies, and his first commitment will be to solve US problems, like the US economy, [and to improve] the country’s global image"And in Kogelo, the residents will be marking the day with songs, dance and thanksgiving prayers. They’ll follow the proceedings via satellite transmission of US broadcasts.

Many residents refer to Mr. Obama in the loca luo language as Ja-Kogelo, meaning "man from Kogelo." They view him as a man who brought great honor to Africa, Kenya, Kogelo and African-Americans.