Since 1902

By John Oywa

The old pieces of paper lie inside a small safe at the Maseno National School’s administration block. Tucked away at a corner in the principal’s office, the safe is one of the school’s most precious assets.

It holds the school’s celebrated history and sensitive information on former teachers and students.

It is here that the academic secrets of a Kenyan economist, the late Barack Obama Snr, are kept.

The Maseno School in Nyanza Province where Obama Snr enrolled for his studies

The late Obama is the father of the man touted to become America’s first black President, Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

Maseno School’s senior teacher in-charge of archives, Mr Mangla Okanda, only speaks about the records contained within with the permission of the principal, Mr Paul Otula.

Old records

"The records here date back to 1906, when the school was founded. We have records of all the students who have passed through this school," says Okanda.

Several prominent Kenyans, including the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko, have their records here.

"The head teachers that time were very mean with information. They condensed a student’s four-year record in a small piece of paper," says Okanda.

Inside the safe is a small cabinet with drawers that contain the documents.

Okanda removes a brown card from one of them. "This one belonged to Barack Obama Sr. He joined the school in 1950 and left in 1953," he explains.

Obama Sr — Index No 3422 — joined the school with his elder brother, Joseph, who left in 1951 for unexplained reasons.

Obama Snr, the father to Illinois Senator Barack Obama

[PHOTOS: FILE/STANDARD]

Obama Sr is said to have come from Alego-Ng’iya in Central Nyanza. His age was not indicated.

The head teacher then was BL Bowers, who served longest at the school, from 1951 to 1969.

Records describe Obama Sr as an intelligent student and show that he was promoted from Class B to A.

"This is an indication that he was a brilliant boy, since Class A was reserved for the very bright students," says Okanda.

In a neat handwriting, Bowers described Obama Sr as "very keen, steady, trustworthy and friendly. Concentrates, reliable and out-going".

Okanda says Obama Sr was a member of the Willis House, the first student hostel to be built at the school.

Otula says students admitted to Maseno were exclusively Christians, since the Anglican Church of Kenya ran the school.

Strict teachers

The teachers were very strict. Students were thoroughly vetted before being enrolled.

The students were taught sciences, art and technical subjects, including carpentry and tailoring.

Otula says Obama Sr went straight to the US from Maseno, to start his academic tour. He later married an American woman, the mother of Senator Obama.

The classroom in which he studied, an E-shaped brick house built by the Scots, is still intact and currently hosting the school’s Form Four students.

The 10 pioneer hostels built in 1906 are still standing. Old boys have thwarted attempts by successive administrators to demolish and replace them with modern dormitories.

"The old boys have rejected moves to bring down the houses. It reminds them of the good old days. They would rather have them renovated than demolished," says one of the school’s deputy principals, Mr Duncan Owiye.

Students of the Willis House were unaware Obama Sr was once a resident.

One other landmark in the school that has withstood the test of time is the bell. Now rusty but still in use, the bell has served the school for over a century.

It hangs on an equally ageing ‘Oseno’ tree, from which Maseno borrowed its name.

"The bell is a sacred feature in the school. No-one has ever tried to damage it," says Owiye.