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Published:September 4th, 2006 06:02 EST
Home Sweet Home - Senator Barack Obama's visit to Kenya

Home Sweet Home - Senator Barack Obama's visit to Kenya

By Juliet Maruru

It was Thursday the 24th of August. The road leading to a farm homestead in Nyagoma Kogello, a little village West of Kenya, was being upgraded, the roadside was being cleared of grass and bush and an air of festivity filled the air. In town, young people wore T-shirts printed with "Welcome Home` slogans while composing chants normally reserved for war heroes coming home in the olden days before the white man`s train made it across African soil. A lady in her old age was busy tending to this and that, determined to make the big day soon to come one to remember. Jar Kogello [a son of Kogello] was coming home!

This particular Jar Kogello just happens to be an American citizen and the only black member of the U.S. Senate. Born in Hawaii to a white American mother and a Kenyan father, the 45-year-old Senator Barack Obama is revered by many Kenyans the way the Irish idolized former U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s -- as a son of the land who succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Back in the 1990`s Barack Obama came home to see his grandmother. Then he traveled in an overloaded matatu, with chickens and God-knows-what else flying over his head and lap. Obama himself says that his coming home as a senator represented a cyclical journey like that of his father, who grew up herding goats and then traveled to America where he studied at Harvard before returning to Kenya to become a noted economist.

After flying into Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria, Obama drove 100 km (60 miles) northwest to the village where his father was born and buried for the highly awaited climax of his two-week African tour.

"Jar Kogello, Ero kamano! [People of Kogello, thank you!]" He said in the local Luo language to rapturous applause as he stood on a table to greet thousands gathered on the football pitch of the Senator Obama Primary School, renamed in his honor.

"Jar Kogello, Ero kamano! [People of Kogello, thank you!]" He said in the local Luo language to rapturous applause as he stood on a table to greet thousands gathered on the football pitch of the Senator Obama Primary School, renamed in his honor. Waiting at his father`s farm, his extended family, some who had come from as far across as the other side of the Kenya-Uganda border, some known, some vaguely related, sang, chanted and waved a U.S. flag, before his 83-year-old step-grandmother, Sarah Hussein Onyango Obama, greeted him with a hearty handshake and a big hug.

Thronged by dozens of journalists, it could hardly be a private reunion, as he and his grandmother walked arm-in-arm to her farm next door. There they talked away from the cameras and ate chicken, cabbage and porridge, Obama said. The senator told reporters his grandmother had accepted his apology for bringing so many camera people to her home.

"I feel very, very good," she said, speaking in Luo.

Since 2004, when the Harvard-trained lawyer and civil rights activist was running for the Senate in Illinois, he has been a star in the east African nation. On his arrival earlier in Kisumu, he took an AIDS test at a local hospital with his wife Michelle, setting an example for the tens of thousands of Africans who fear the stigma of being tested for the disease ravaging sub-Saharan Africa.

"If a senator from the United States and his wife can get tested, then everyone in this crowd, in this town and in this province can get tested," he told the crowd in Nyanza province, which has one of the highest infection rates in Kenya. Since his election, many in poor Kogello village have been creating a to-do-list of projects he can fund. But Obama -- whose first name Barack means "blessed" in Swahili -- has tried to dampen expectations of what he can provide.

"There is a sense that somehow I can deliver the largesse of the US government, and I can`t" he was quoted as saying. " I think people need to understand that I am the senator from Illinois, not the senator from Kogello," he said.

During his visit, he made a courtesy call on the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki and the leader of official opposition Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta at different venues. He also visited the August 7, 1998 Bomb blast Memorial Park. Later he made a tour of the infamous sprawling Kibera slums. 

During his visit, he made a courtesy call on the President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki and the leader of official opposition Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta at different venues. He also visited the August 7, 1998 Bomb blast Memorial Park. Later he made a tour of the infamous sprawling Kibera slums. 

During his speeches, he commended the democratic progress in Kenya stating that it was key to economic development. He also warned against ethnic politics and corruption. 

Senator Barack Obama who ended his 6-day tour Tuesday, August 29 came under intense fire from a member of the recently formed National Anti-corruption coordinating committee, Julius Okala over his scathing remarks on the government`s fight against corruption. However, participants in the function echoed the Senator`s words calling on the Kenya Anti- Corruption Commission to establish offices at the divisional and district levels to tackle graft more effectively. They singled out the Police Force, land office and judiciary as the most corrupt institutions.