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K’ogelo reacts to ‘bad news’ Barack Obama might not visit ‘home’

COUNTIES
By The standard on saturday team | July 18th 2015

Residents of K’ogelo are disappointed at reports indicating that US President Barack Obama will not visit his ‘ancestral home’, after all.

But Mama Sarah Obama, reacting to US ambassador Robert Godec’s remarks, urged them to understand the President’s role as a world leader. Obama’s grandmother said residents should not take the visit as a private one, stressing that Obama is coming to Kenya on official engagement.

“I do not see why we are making it an issue. The President is coming to attend a global function and we should not insist that he comes to Kogelo. If he wants to come, he will, and if he doesn’t we should still appreciate that he came to his father’s country,” said Mama Sarah when she spoke to The Standard on Saturday at her home.

Speaking on KTN’s Jeff Koinange Live on Thursday, Godec said Obama might not have time to travel to K’ogelo in Siaya County, where his father hails from. Godec admitted that his embassy has received a lot of requests to have Obama visit organisations, counties, etc, but he said Obama’s schedule cannot allow all that. “I am certain Obama would have loved to meet everyone but being the US President that cannot be possible,’’ he explained. “He will not even be able to visit K’ogelo his hometown.”

Hoping against hope

The envoy said there are other avenues put in place to have their views aired which will help them in socio-economic development. He, however, said the embassy is still working on possibilities of more events.

“We have a global business summit that the President will attend. This will give young entrepreneurs a chance to engage with established business people from whom they can get contacts, ideas and even funding to develop their businesses,” he said, adding that Obama will be meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta for talks on how to strengthen Kenya-US bilateral relationship.

The announcement dampened the spirits of many Kogelo residents, who had high hopes that Obama would for the first time visit as President.

Jennifer Atieno, 35, expressed her disappointment, saying the President’s visit to the village would put the area on the global map. She said since Obama became President, the village has attracted tourists and other personalities, who have kept coming to see where the world’s most powerful leader traces his roots.

“I can’t say I am happy with the announcement that he is not coming. Expectations were high in this village and it now looks like our happiness has been dampened. We hold him dearly in our hearts, considering that his father was our own till his death in 1982,” said Atieno.

Another resident Yvonne Edith, 29, expressed her disappointment saying she has missed a chance to see the most powerful man in the world.

“Being that his roots are from Kogelo and he is the most powerful president in the world, I was looking forward to see him,” said Edith.

Cynthia Mwende,17, a student at Senator Obama Secondary School who had written a letter to the US President requesting him to visit the school, appealed to him to honour their request despite the decision to skip K’ogelo.

“We are disappointed but we understand there might be important reasons for the decision,” said Mwende.

The Principal of Senator Obama Secondary School Elly Odongo said if the President read the letter from his students, he will deliver their wishes.

“We are still hopeful that he can make it. We understand that his is a State visit and has a serious protocol to be respected,” he added.

At Mama Sarah Obama’s home, a visit by The Standard on Saturday revealed attempts to give the homestead a facelift in anticipation of a visit. Siaya County government had pumped in money to carry out a number of renovations in the home. Various structures are currently undergoing painting, including putting up Mama Sarah’s office where she is meant to meet her guests that keep thronging her home.

“I am happy that Governor Cornel Rasanga has found it important to do this job. This work is going on as you can see, and indeed this is to show that this home has become an area of focus. I receive visitors in their hundreds every day and this gesture by Siaya Governor is a good one,” said Mama Sarah.

The county government and other sponsors had already set aside Sh52 million for welcoming of Obama in case he visits his ancestral home.

In a breakdown, Sh21.8 million will be used to sponsor an Obama 7s rugby tournament, another Sh10.8 million shall be spent on publicity, the Lake Kanyaboli half marathon will cost Sh5 million, a culture and tourism expo will cost Sh4.7 million and an investment conference will cost Sh5.3 million.

“The county government will only contribute Sh10 million of the Sh52 million and the rest of the money would come from sponsors,” said Governor Rasanga.

Deputy Governor Wilson Ouma  told journalists that the county is currently in high spirits following President Obama’s visit to Kenya, and that should he not come to K’ogelo, it will be a disappointment.

“We will be disapponted of course. We are organising our own tourism expo summit, in case President Obama fails to visit K’ogelo residents will still have a chance and platform to learn and explore their culture and at the same time we are promoting tourism industry,” said the deputy governor.

— Reporting by Frank Otieno, Olivia Odhiambo and Graham Kajilwa

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