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Keziah Obama: My life with Obama Senior

By | Published Tue, November 11th 2008 at 00:00, Updated January 1st 1970 at 03:00 GMT +3

By John Oywa

Barack Obama’s stepmother broke her silence on her life with the Senator’s father, on a day the US President-elect and his wife, Michelle, were treated to a visit of the White House.

Grace Keziah Obama, 67, who now lives in Bracknell, UK, but is currently visiting with the rest of the family in Kogelo, says her late husband, also known as Barack Obama, was a loving man with a taste of the good things in life. He also spoke his mind and liked the truth.

Speaking to The Standard at her house in Kogelo, Keziah narrated how she met Obama Senior at a village dance party deep in the rugged plains of Karachuonyo.

She was only 16 and attending school then and had no idea that the young man courting her would one day father the future president of the most powerful nation on earth. Keziah says Obama Senior was so handsome and stylish that she could not resist his advances that Christmas night in 1956.

"He asked to dance with me during the party and I could not turn him down. He picked me from several girls present. A few days later, I married him," Keziah says, her face beaming with nostalgia.

"He paid 14 cows as dowry which were delivered in two batches. This was because he loved me greatly," she says.

As she spoke, Obama was to meet US President George W Bush in the White House for consultations ahead of his inauguration on January 20. First Lady Laura was to show Michelle around their soon-to-be residence.

Obama made history by winning the US elections on November 4, becoming the first African-American to serve in the Oval Office.

And back in Kogelo, Keziah was telling this reporter about her first meeting with Obama Senior.

Apparently, Obama Senior had gone visiting his relatives in Karachuonyo in South Nyanza when he met her at the party. He was the first-born son of Mzee Hussein Onyango.

Grace Keziah Obama: When I look at my stepson (US President-elect) he reminds me of his father. [PHOTO: TITUS MANALA/STANDARD]

Now, 52 years on, Keziah looks back at her days with Obama Senior with a sense of amusement at the turn of events that would later shape their lives.

No dull moment

She first met her stepson, US President-elect Barack Obama, when he visited Kogelo village in 1988. Keziah says she was "delighted to see him" and that they have since communicated on a number of occasions.

"When I look at my stepson (US President-elect Obama) he reminds me of his father. They share very many characteristics. Like father, like son, I would say," she says.

"He was forthright and loved the truth. This is what I am seeing in his son," Keziah says, adding that just like Barack, his father was a great speaker, out-going, colourful and intelligent.

"I never had a dull moment with him. He liked fun and loved good things. This is why I was not surprised when I heard that he had married a second wife in the US," she quips.

Keziah explains how Obama her husband was such a great dancer that he often took her out for live band performances to as far as Kendu Bay.

"We used to carry our first born baby (Malik) with us and we would put him to sleep in a cot as we danced," she says.

Second marriage

Obama Senior left for the United States in 1959 for further studies during the famous airlifts organised by the late Planning Minister Tom Mboya.

"I remember escorting him to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, then known as Embakasi airport," she says.

"He asked me to take care of our only child then, Malik Abongo, who was six years old. I was pregnant with our second child — Rita Auma."

After arriving in the US, however, her husband was to fall in love with another woman — Ann Dunham (Barack’s mother — who he later married.

But in keeping with the Luo customs, Obama Senior sought her consent to take another wife, which she granted.

Keziah says she was happy to have a co-wife, and her husband kept her updated. He informed her when Barack Obama Junior was born.

She says that despite her husband marrying another woman in the US, she still loved him.

"He used to send me gifts, money and clothes through the post office. Many people envied me," she said.

"He returned to Kenya at the end of 1964 and we moved to live in Shauri Moyo estate in Nairobi," she says. She got two more sons — Mustapha Nyandega and Sadik Otieno born in 1968 and 1971 respectively.

Life continued to be good for them until things took a different turn in 1982 when her husband died in a road accident in Nairobi.

Keziah says she was devastated and that from then on, life was never the same for her. For example, she had to relocate to be with her daughter Auma in United Kingdom where she has been undergoing treatment.

Biggest honour

Her eldest son Malik, 50, is a businessman and frequently speaks with his stepbrother, Obama Junior, frequently.

"The last time I spoke with him was a few hours before the US elections. He was in upbeat mood and assured me he would win," says Malik.

Malik remembers how the US President-elect asked him on two occasions to represent the family at his functions in the US.

"I represented our late father at Barack’s wedding in the US when he married Michelle in 1992. It was a wonderful occasion," Malik says.

Malik was back in the US again in 2005 when he and Mama Sarah, his step-grandmother attended Obama Junior’s inauguration as senator for Illinois in Chicago.

"His victory is the biggest honour the American people have given us this century," quips Malik.

Malik says celebrations that began soon after Obama junior’s election victory were still going on.

"We continue to receive visitors and we are quiet happy. We have slaughtered many bulls; meanwhile, the party continues…" concludes Malik.