Obama’s ancestral Kenyan village sinks into oblivion after his presidency

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The remote village where President Barack Obama’s father grew up is no longer bustling and busy as when the 44th President of the United States was in the spotlight.

Beginning in 2004, when Obama first won his seat in the United States Senate, hundreds of local and foreign visitors flocked to the humble hometown of his father’s birthplace.# mce_temp_url #

This stardust settled deeper into the village during Obama’s visit in August 2006, as rumors circulated that he was seeking the Democratic Party’s ticket to the 2008 presidential election.

What had once been a trickle of interest has turned into a swirling stream of high-end SUVs and sightseeing buses desperate to glimpse the African roots of the man who would make history as America’s first president colored.

For security reasons, Kenyan police have cordoned off the home of Mama Sarah Obama, who died at the age of 99 earlier this year.

President Barack Obama and members of his Kenyan family at the official opening of the Sauti Kuu Empowerment Center in the village of Kogelo on July 16, 2018.
Sauti Kuu Foundation

Local investors flocked to the village, giddy at the prospect of profiting from the Obamamania gold rush sweeping the world.

Barack Obama Sr. was as important a man in the village as his son was on the world stage. He donated land for the two schools in the village and named them after his son.

“Obama’s visit in 2006 led to Kogelo’s transformation, and things got even better when he became president,” village resident Johannes Oduor told Zenger News.

And as Obama rose to power in the White House, change started pouring in the tiny village where the last major infrastructure project had been a bridge built in 1930. He got his first power grid and even a police station to deal with the new tourists.

But now – five years after Obama left the White House – the once bustling and bustling village is back to its sleepy old days. trucks transporting farm produce to the local market.

The now deserted Nyangoma market, which served as the epicenter of the famous village, shows how dramatically fortunes changed after Obama left the world stage.

Inauguration of Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama salutes the departure of the inauguration on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 20, 2017.
Kevin Dietsch-Pool / Getty Images

Bernard Wendo, a 42-year-old taxi driver at Nyangoma Market, said the hype, fame and international interest in the village was gone after Obama left just 16 years ago.

“Initially, this village was full of foreign dignitaries, government officials, students, tourists, journalists and researchers, but this is no longer the case,” he told Zenger News.

Kogelo resident Humphrey Kosiele said the community’s earnings during the Obama era were rapidly declining due to a lack of foreign visitors.

“We’re back to where we were before fame,” he told Zenger.

For nine years, Kosiele ran a successful grocery store in Nyangoma Market, but closed his business in 2017 due to what he describes as a “disappointing business environment”.

“After Obama left, things got dark. Visitors disappeared, and that’s how most businesses died, including mine.”

Dennis Weloba, 35, hairdresser in the center of Nyangoma, is one of the few whose businesses are still operational but in difficulty. Weloba says he would make $ 10 a day looking after crowds of visitors during the Obama era, but struggles to make $ 2 today.

“Life was good then, but now we are surviving by the grace of God,” he told Zenger.

The taxi business, which visitors relied on to get around the village, flourished during the Obama era. However, there are no longer any taxi ranks in the city.

Bicycles and motorcycle taxis, commonly known as bodabodas, are the primary mode of transportation for the majority of residents.

Andrew Jumba, 56, was forced to sell his cab after things went wrong.

“I had to sell the car to be able to pay off a delinquent loan, and the bank was on my neck,” he told Zenger. “When the tourists came, the money was plentiful and servicing my loan was no problem, but life got tough when they were gone.”

Kogelo seaside resort
A section of the resort town of Kogelo which is among the hotels that closed due to lack of visitors in Kogelo, Siaya County on August 26, 2021.
Jackson Okata / Zenger

Many of his fellow taxi drivers either sold their vehicles or moved to the nearby towns of Siaya and Bondo.

Bernard Omondi opened a small shop selling agricultural and veterinary products to people who bought farms in and around the village, anticipating great fortunes. After Obama retired, he says, people’s “purchasing power” declined dramatically, forcing most businesses to close.

“Farmers had a large market for their produce, but with hotels closing and people moving to nearby towns, many have abandoned their farms,” he told Zenger.

Hospitality investors who have set up top-notch facilities to cater to high profile visitors to Nyangoma-Kogelo are also counting their losses.

“The hotel industry was the most dynamic sector in this village,” Nicholas Rajula, owner of Kogelo Village Resort, told Zenger.

The seaside resort attracted hundreds of visitors in its heyday, but today it is a shell of itself, almost deserted.

“We relied on visitors and foreign tourists, and when they stopped coming I had to look for other options. I turned part of the hotel into residences.”

The only operational facility, albeit partially, is the Barack Obama Hotel, owned by Malik Obama, Barack’s half-brother, best remembered for supporting Trump for the presidency in 2017.

But with the departure of Obama, Nyangoma-Kogelo lost more than personal businesses. Myriads of charities created in honor of President Obama that have benefited hundreds of the poor gradually faded away after his presidency.

After Obama left the White House, many educational foundations scaled back their operations as donors became scarce. Some students who depended entirely on the education sponsorship of the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation dropped out of school after it ceased to operate.

After the death of Mama Sarah Obama in March 2021, a vocational training center that she helped set up to train orphans in craftsmen’s courses closed for lack of funds. Marsat Onyango, who oversees the foundation’s operations and administration, said a reduction in the number of donors has affected the continuity of most projects launched during Obama’s time.

Senator Obama Kogelo Primary School
Students take a reading literacy test, a project started during the Obama presidency by his half-sister Auma Obama at Senator Obama Kogelo Elementary School on August 26, 2021.
Sauti Kuu Foundation

“The scholarship program has been hit the hardest with a decrease in funding, forcing us to reduce the number of students receiving support,” she told Zenger.

“However, we are working both locally and internationally to seek new partnerships to help us keep hope alive in this community.”

But even under the changed circumstances of the village, some positive work can still be seen.

Obama’s half-sister, Auma Obama, is still engaged in education, personality development and sustainable economic development projects through his eponymous foundation.

She said plans were underway to begin construction of Barack Obama University on a 90-acre lot assigned to Kogelo.

“Fundraising is underway, and we hope and pray that this project is successful,” Jacob Wakoli, the foundation’s infrastructure and projects coordinator, told Zenger News.

“Barack Obama University will be a historic project for us. It will raise the standards of education in the community and also stimulate economic growth in this area.”

In July 2018, Obama visited Kenya to promote the opening of a sports and training center sponsored by the Auma Foundation. However, community leaders fear that Obama’s legacy in Nyangoma-Kogelo is running out and are considering taking over his family’s plans.

Kogelo road
The main road leading to Kogelo village has very limited traffic unlike in the past where it was a busy road in Kogelo on August 26, 2021.
Jackson Okata / Zenger

“We hope we can save the day and save the projects from death,” Willys Ochiel, one of the community leaders, told Zenger. “We think Obama will come for another visit someday, and we don’t want him to be disappointed with our laxity.”

Hesbon Ochieng, 74, a community leader, says their small village would have struggled to access necessities without the connection with Obama.

“Our community has running water, electricity, good schools, a health center and good roads, all of them are named after him,” he told Zenger.

Ochieng said community leaders are also planning to revive the Obama Kogelo Cultural Center to preserve the history of the village.

“Future generations should know that it was Obama who gave this village worldwide recognition, and we can only do so by preserving his legacy and the good deeds his name has brought to this community.”

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger news.


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