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Obama grandma’s first hectic year in ‘office’

By | January 18th 2010

By George Olwenya

As US President Barack Obama had his first year in office, back in his ancestral home in Kogelo, Siaya, his step grandmother had her own hectic first year in ‘office’.

Without the international influence brought upon her by her grandson’s elevation to the highest political office in the world, Mama Sarah Obama might just be the usual village grandmother who tends to her shamba, her goats and chicken and mingles with her local folks.

But that has not been the case since Obama was elected to high office. Locally, she might now earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the villager who has shaken most hands with people from all walks of life in on year.


Every local NGO and other organisations wants to be associated with her and she has been having her hands full meeting new obligations brought into her life by groups and people she might never have heard of before.

Politicians from around and elsewhere in the country call on her without warning and talk with her things she may not the meaning of.

She has been named goodwill ambassador to several local and international organisations and her docket keeps growing.

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Mama Sarah Obama is the goodwill ambassador of Camp Maradona, an international organisation using sports to fight malnutrition and whose country director is Mr Charles Ochome.

She is also the goodwill ambassador to the African Union (AU)-sponsored Pan-Africa Tsetse fly and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign (PATTEC) headed in the country by Dr Pamela Olet.

It targets wiping out tsetse fly and sleeping sickness. None of the threats exist in Kogelo but Mama Sarah’s names renders respect to the campaign.

She has for the last one year been receiving visitors on a daily basis.

High profile

Her life has changed and on the few occasions she is not at home, then she is attending high profile functions in Kisumu, Nairobi and elsewhere.

Mama Sarah, now aged 89, is said to have received more than 20,000 visitors in the last one year after the inauguration of Obama as the first black President of US on January 20, last year.

Some of the visitors do not find her at home, they just call and sign in any of several visitors books kept by her security team at her Kogelo homestead gate.

"Sometimes she receives groups comprising upto 500 people in a day," says Mr Awandu Ondewe, the chairman of Kogelo Union.

The include Cabinet Ministers and senior Government officials, dignitaries representing their countries, chief executives from multinational and local companies, tourists, groups from schools, colleges, churches and charitable organisations to mention a few.

Tourism Minister Najib Balala has been to her home and discussed with her plans to elevate Kogelo into a tourist site.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions boss Francis Atwoli visited with a big delegation and talked with her for over two hours.

Before President Obama came into limelight, Mama Sarah was just an ordinary grandmother at Kogelo village in Siaya, selling produce from her shamba at the local market.

She later had to contend with the hordes of international and local media who used to troop into the home for interviews in the run-up to the election.

Pupils of Kogelo Primary School line up as Mama Sarah Obama hands them books donated by Kenya Publishers Association. Right, Tourism Minister Najib Balala when he paid her a courtesy call. [PHOTO: JAMES KEYI/STANDARD]

Many visitors

Things have, however, changed and the granny has to contend with the many visitors coming to pay homage to the place where President Obama’s father, Barack Obama Senior was born.

Among signatures in the visitors’ books include those of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Cabinet ministers James Orengo (Lands), Anyang Nyongo (Health) Najib Balala (Tourism), Otieno Kajwang (Immigration), several Members of Parliament and Permanent Secretaries.

US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger was among foreign mission representatives who visited Mama Sarah at Kogelo.

Famous musicians among them king of groups like Kwasa Kwasa, Kanda Bongo Man and Benga songbird Princess Jully paid homage to the grandmother.

Seats are permanently neatly arranged under a huge tree directly in front of her house where she receives visitors.

Once the visitors are seated, it will not take time before she appears uttering greetings, "Karibu sana" welcome.

Mama Sarah said last week: "Most of the times I am at home and I always welcome my visitors with open hands."

Many visitors coming to the home bring with them gifts like food, clothes and blankets which the granny in turn gives to the less fortunate in the surrounding villages.

Despite her advanced age now forcing her to use a walking stick, she says "Loso kod Lwedo ma amoso go wend Nyakwara to Nyasaye Omiya," (God has given me the ability to chat and the hand to shake and welcome my grandsons’ visitors to this home), says Mama Sarah.

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