Kogelo loses its lustre as few tourists visit the Obamas

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A few years ago, when one arrived at Ndori market on Kisumu–Bondo Road, apart from the fruit sellers who bombarded car windows with their produce, one question they would be asked was whether they had visited the ancestral home of the former US President Barack Obama.

From Ndori, you can easily access Nyang’oma Kogelo in Alego Usonga by branching onto a tarmac road on the right side.

This time when the Nation drove on that road, the usual excitement from villagers was non-existent. You could tell that something has changed. Nobody mentioned Kogelo.

When we finally reached Kogelo, the trading centre, which for more than 12 years was a beehive of activity, we found it quiet. It was not hard to tell that it has lost its spark.

Mr Joseph Mbok Oduor, 62, who operates a video cinema hall admitted that back then, there used to be a flurry of activity at the centre owing to hundreds of visitors who would come to see where Obama senior was born.

“Not even a week would pass before you see local and foreign visitors streaming in to see where Obama came from. School buses and private vehicles would ferry them in and out of the home almost daily. But now we no longer see them yet they used to boost business at this centre,” Mr Mbok recalls.

Mr Joseph Olima, 31, a boda boda rider, agrees that the enthusiasm that once engulfed Kogelo has died down.

“We no longer carry tourists towards the Obama home. Businesses have been affected badly including resorts and hotels that would hold seminars and receive massive bookings,” said Mr Olima.

He added that following the death of the family matriarch, Mama Sarah Obama in March last year, there is no one to excite the public to visit the home.

He, however, admits that the Kogelo village reaped huge benefits that came with being the ancestral home of the former US President.

“We benefited through improved road network after major roads such as the Ndori-Ngíya Road was tarmacked as well as within the market centres. We also thank God that a police station was established here improving security,” said Mr Olima.

The price of land in the area has significantly plummeted as interest in the village reduces.

Reports of the withdrawal of security from Mr Obama’s ancestral home have further exhibited the extent to which the once vibrant village has lost its sheen.

The withdrawal, which was made public by Mr Malik Obama – Mr Obama’s half-brother – last week, was greeted with surprise.

Officers who had been manning the home of Mama Sarah Obama were recalled to the station, which is located a few metres away.

In a tweet, Malik thanked the government for providing security for all the years. “On behalf of the Obama family, we thank the government for providing our ancestral home with security during, and beyond the presidency of Barack Obama,” said Malik.

He, however, went on to alert the public that the officers had been withdrawn.

“Today (Oct 16, 2022) the last vestiges of government security were dismantled and removed and all personnel withdrawn.”

Mr Said Obama, while downplaying the matter, maintained that what happened is normal and that as a family, they are aware and grateful for the support they were given for the past 12 years.

“This is not out of the ordinary and for now we are not under any threat. Some of these things are tied to dignitaries who one way or another may be targeted or their close family members, thus the security. As it stands, we are okay and would prefer our privacy as a family,” said Mr Said.

Apart from the Obamas, President William Ruto’s administration withdrew government vehicles and other public assets and redeployed staff that had been attached to former President Daniel Moi.

This came after the expiry of a two-year grace period granted by the government following the death of Mr Moi in 2020.

Mr Said revealed plans to modernise the home and maintain its rich history. He said they still receive visitors, especially from the US.

Siaya County Commissioner Jim Njoka said he was not aware of the alleged withdrawal of police officers from the Obama’s home.

South East Alego location chief Ogutu Ojala also said there is nothing like withdrawal of police but stated that there is already a police station next to the home.

“There is no way one would claim that police have been withdrawn, in any case Mama Sarah is no longer alive. Nyang’oma Police Station is sharing a fence with Mama Sarah’s home and it is still serving Nyang’oma Kogelo residents,” said Mr Ojala.

The station, however, is 150 metres apart. Until her death, Mama Sarah was guarded by four police officers. During her burial, former Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga said they will lobby to have the home gazetted as a tourist attraction site in honour of the late matriarch. This had not accomplished by the time Mr Rasanga left office.

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