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Sleepy Kogelo awakened by buzz of Obama visit

Expectations of economic overhaul after 2008 US poll win may long be dead but former POTUS visit still elicits unbridled excitement

Kenna Claude

Nyang’oma Kogelo is a sleepy, perhaps dull, village nestled between the grandeur of Kisumu city and the dusty Siaya township.

Kogelo town is equally uninteresting, only awakening when subsistence farmers gather their small harvest and local breeds of livestock to trade in during the weekly market days on Monday.

Natives sell among themselves sugarcane, chicken, eggs and grain in small quantities. But looks may be deceiving, as they say. The area has produced academicians, medics, engineers and other professionals of global acclaim.

But the most prominent claim is links to the 44th President of the US. One, Barack Obama, two-term leader of the most powerful country on earth, traces his roots to the nondescript village.

Perks of association

And this association has come with perks. Kogelo now enjoys a tarmac road and electricity. Indeed, expectations started rising immediately Obama was declared winner of the US 2008 presidential election.

Villagers, Kenyans and the rest of Africa bet the area would turn into a model city of Africa. Land value rose by more than 80 per cent. Local shopkeepers were replaced by outsiders, pumping in more capital.

The assumptions were started and sustained by a “donor syndrome” that has ravaged Africa the entire post-colonial era. Kogelo, and the rest, anticipated an injection of endless resources and capital now that one of their own run the richest nation. But that was not to happen.

Apart from the quick tarmac and electricity that was set up by the regime of retired president Mwai Kibaki in 2008, nothing else really changed, nothing makes the village stand out.

The villagers have had to nurse their disappointment and learn to manage expectations.

Senator Barack Obama Secondary School for example, with nearly 500 students, remains a mixed day secondary with half-finished classrooms and no laboratories.

Still, Obama’s visit on Monday has lit excitement levels, not just in the village, but entire Nyanza to inferno levels. The former POTUS will open a youth centre sponsored by Sauti Kuu Foundation, an initiative of his half-sister Dr Auma Obama.

Auma reasons that the best way to tackle the crippling poverty in the area is to de-link youth from reliance on politicians’ hand-outs and donations. This, she hopes to do equipping them with technical skills that can make them sustainable income.

Thus with the assistance of donors, a new technical college is being set up. It is expected to train youth in welding, masonry, carpentry, electrical and motor vehicle repairs.

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