Villagers anxious as security tightens ahead of Obama trip

Joachim Ndalo, an artiste at Kogelo village with a portrait which he intends to present to former US President Barack Obama as a gift during his visit. (Collins Oduor, Standard)
?The US Secret Service has put Kisumu and Siaya counties under the microscope as the two counties prepare to receive former President Barack Obama.

Undercover Secret Service agents working with local plain cloth police officers have been surveying the Kisumu International Airport and Kogelo village with security in the two counties tightened.

The former US President who remains under the tight security by the Secret Service, is expected to board a plane to Nairobi in the coming hours, before heading to Kogelo, his ancestral home.

Police commanders from Siaya and Kisumu counties were engaged in security meetings, as they implemented orders from their superiors, to avert security lapses in the next 48 hours.

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But as the clock ticks to the big visit on Monday, Obama’s fifth since he first visited Kogelo in 1986, locals have great expectations amid fears the tight security arrangements would deny them a chance to meet their son.

Obama will be in Kogelo to inaugurate the Sauti Kuu Vocational training center which his half-sister, Dr Auma Obama describes as an Invites only private function. The project is run by Auma with assistance from donors.

Investment opportunities

Leaders in Siaya and Kisumu are optimistic that the former US President’s visit will open doors for investment opportunities.

Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o and his Siaya Cornel Rasanga are among the VIPs lined up to meet Obama.

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Prof Nyong’o is expected to receive the former US President when he lands at the Kisumu Airport while Mr Rasanga will welcome him to Kogelo where he plans to present to him a memorandum.

“We know the attachment our people have with Obama, and this will be the best opportunity for them to interact,” said the Kisumu governor.

Nyong’o will brief the former US President about investment opportunities in Kisumu.

The Kisumu governor’s deputy, Mathews Owili said: “His (Obama’s) choice to make a stop in Kisumu is a clear testimony that indeed Kisumu is a globally preferred destination.”

He added: “Kisumu is a land of incredible promises and opportunity that must be tapped. I want to send a passionate plea to the business community to come out and make real capital of this visit.”

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He said they will also use the opportunity to showcase the tourism potential of the region.

Rasanga said he brief Obama about a university named after him which is under construction in Siaya town.

“Barrack Obama University is top on my priority list. We intend to have campuses in different sub counties. We would like him to support the growth of the university and its establishment to enable it grow,” he noted.

He also plans to highlight the solar project in Pap Boro,Segere.

The project is an American investment which the governor wants the county government to offer support as it will offer locals jobs.

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Alego-Usonga MP, Sam Atandi said he will attend the event.

“The visit by Obama and his entourage will have the positive effect of putting the global focus on Siaya and Kenya even if momentarily,” he said.

He added: If used effectively by both the national and county governments for marketing purposes, it has a huge potential of promoting tourism and attracting both direct and indirect foreign investment apart from boosting the country’s diplomatic standing.”

Already, organisers of the event have issued tight security measures at the Kisumu International Airport and at Kogelo that will receive America’s 44th President.

But despite reports that only those with invitation cards will access, various groups -including politicians, church leaders, youth groups and Luo Council of Elders held day long meetings yesterday to plot how to meet Obama and present their memorandum.

“There is a lot of anxiety. We still don’t know who will be allowed to the venue but we will try our luck. This is our son and we want to tell him the challenges we are facing as the youth,” said Michael Sande, a youth leader who runs a shop at Kogelo market.

At the Kogelo lodge and Spa, Bishops, representatives of Governors Nyong’o and Rasanga, village representatives and members of the Luo Council of Elders, met to fine tune a memorandum to be signed by 500 people.

The Luo Council ‘Ker”, Mzee Opiyo Otondi, Bishop Ogonyo Ngede of power of Jesus Around the World and Archbishop Habakuk Abogno of the Church of Christ in Africa, led the talks. Kisumu Catholic Archbishop, Zacheus Okoth also sent a representative.

“Ours will be to offer prayers. We will also present a memorandum being edited by Bondo ACK Bishop Prof David Kodia,” said Archbishop Abogno.

Conflicting reports

Former civic leader and hotelier, Nicholas Rajula who represented the Kogelo community said the establishment of a university and a multi-billion medical research center in Kogelo will top their memorandum.

“We are preparing a memorandum that will be signed by 500 people. We will tell our son about our needs. We will tell him we have more than 100 acres of land for the university and a research center,” said Rajula who was among a delegation from Kogelo that visited Obama at the white House in 2008 soon after his election.

He added: “There is anxiety but we are happy. We want the world to know that Kogelo is supporting the Sauti Kuu project. We hope he will get time to present our memorandum to him.”

There were also conflicting reports on whether Obama will spare time to visit his grandmother-Mama Sarah whose home is only 800 metres from the venue of the event.

“Earlier reports said he will not visit Mama Sarah at home because of the tight schedule but from the look of things it seems like things have changed. There is a lot of movements by security officers around the home, an indication that he may come home,” said Rajula.

Rajula said Mama Sarah, now in her late 90s, was also expected to attend the meeting later in the afternoon to add her voice to the community memorandum.

Barely a kilometer from the hotel, bulldozers leveled roads around the Sauti Kuu facility, as contractors made final touches for the Monday function.

But above the din of hammers nailing in the tents and roars of the various machinery, villagers living around the facility went on with their daily chores.

“It is a good thing. It has made us to have a new road opened here. Otherwise, I am going with my usual life. I m looking after my cows. On Monday we will try to see if they will allow us in as neighbours,” said Joram Mboya whose home borders the Sauti Kuu project.

But some of the locals say they will not meet Obama with empty hands. A re-known artist who has sketched portraits for Presidents and top leaders, Mr Joakim Ndalo has already brought a Luo Traditional stool which he wants to present to the former President.

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