By Protus Onyango & Kevine Omollo
Kisumu, Kenya: Zeituni Onyango Obama, the United States President Barack Obama’s aunt, has been laid to rest in Kisumu under the Muslim religion traditions.
This is despite calls by a Homabay resident who had wanted to bury her body claiming she was her wife.
Recently, Ebel Mboya Okoko, a resident of Kanyadhiang Village in Homabay County claimed that Zeituni was his legal wife and wanted to bury her remains at his home under the Luo tradition.
Until Monday, Okoko still had hopes of burying the body despite what he termed his in-laws’ family denying him the rights.
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He said efforts to meet Mama Sara Obama or other Zeituni’s close relatives to discuss the whereabouts of Zeituni’s funeral had failed.
Last week a report attributed to President Barack Obama’s half-brother Malik Abong’o, that the remains of Ms Zeituni would be buried in a Muslim cemetery in Kisumu prompted Okoko to seek legal redress to the matter.
He said he would go to court to get an order allowing him to bury the body.
But Tuesday, Zeituni’s remains were laid to rest in a quiet ceremony that was not attended by political or administrative leaders. Neither Okoko nor anybody from his Kanyadhiang home was present during the viewing of Zeituni’s body at her sister’s home in Kisumu’s Kaloleni estate or at the burial site.
A member of Obama family claimed that the ‘husband’ had not paid dowry hence could not legally claim Zeituni’s marriage.
Okoko could not however be reached for comments during and after the burial which took 20 minutes.
Zeituni’s four children they said they had nothing to do with Okoko even though he is their father given that he abandoned them at a tender age, leaving their mother to struggle to raise them as if she was a single mother.
Faizal Mboya, Zeituni’s eldest son said Okoko abandoned the family long time ago and had never bothered to enquire about the well-being of the family, only to claim Zeituni’s dead body.
“If he has a fight then he should direct the fight to us (children) and not my late mother. We have buried her and we want her to rest in peace,” said Faizal.
He said the family has lived to recognize that they belong to the Obama family given that it is Zeituni who has taken care of them since childhood.
“There are some basic questions we can ask him. Where was he (Mboya) when my mother was alive? Has he even built my mother a house? When was the last time he saw my mum? We have buried my mother and life has to continue for us hence we need peace,” said Faizal.
Other children Pascal Hussain, Shabir Abdi and Rukia Mboya were also present at the funeral.
President Obama’s grandmother Sara wept uncontrollably when she viewed her daughter’s body and remained behind to watch the convoy of over ten vehicles take the body to the cemetery where no woman is allowed to access according to the Muslim traditions.
Zeituni who died last month was flown to Nairobi from the US on Monday night with a stopover in London.
The body was then flown to Kisumu on Tuesday morning and viewed by relatives and friends at Zeituni sister’s home in Kaloleni Estate before being buried at 10.30am at Kisumu’s Muslim Cemetery along Busia Road.
Security was tight at the burial site as ten armed Administration Police officers kept watch of the burial proceedings.
Said Hussain Obama, Zeituni’s sister who spoke to journalists after the burial brushed off media reports that there are divisions within the family.
He said the family was together and had cooperated all the way from the time Zeituni passed away.
Immediately after the burial, family and friends headed for the family’s Kogelo home in Siaya County where Hussain said they were to congregate and chat family issues before they leave for their various destinations.
Mustafa Obama, the US President's half-brother said they had expected Obama to attend the burial but couldn’t because of his tight schedule.
“My brother Barack helped pay funeral expenses and sent a condolence note but he is not involved with the funeral arrangements. We thought he could fly home but he is busy,” Mr Obama said.
Zeituni succumbed to breast cancer on April 8 at the Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation Harborlights facility in South Boston.
She is the half-aunt of President Obama and the half-sister of Obama's late father Barack Obama Snr.
She is the second born child of Mama Sarah’s six children-three sons and three daughters.
The deceased went to the US in 2000 and sought political asylum citing violence in her marriage but her case was thrown out in 2004.
She appealed the ruling and won asylum in 2010 after living illegally in Boston for several years.
Zeituni’s funeral service was held last Saturday in Boston and was attended by Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga who has extended his stay in the US by a month.
President Obama revealed that her dead aunt was the first person to greet him when he first visited Kogelo in 1987. He was very fond of her and wrote about her several times in his book, Dreams of My Father.
“Barack, this is our Auntie Zeituni. Our father’s sister.”
“Welcome home,” Zeituni said, kissing me on both cheeks.
She served as his guide in Kenya and his guide to some painful family history during his visit there in 1988. She said that Obama’s father, who died in a car crash in 1982, had taken her in when her husband became abusive and she had no money.
Zeituni was born in Kenya on May 29, 1952. She raised a family in Kenya and worked in the computer department at Kenya Breweries, where she managed a staff of 25.
Her memoir, “Tears of Abuse,” was published in 2012. In it she wrote, “The Obama clan is like the Baobab tree, the strength lies in its roots.” She warned Obama about losing track of their African family.