16 July 2018

Kenya: Obama Visit Causes Rifts Among Local Leaders

Photo: Daily Nation
President Uhuru Kenyatta with the 44th US President Barack Obama when he paid him a courtesy call at State House, Nairobi on July 15, 2018. On the left is Mr Obama’s half sister Dr Auma Obama.

Former US President Barack Obama's tour of his native village in Kogelo on Sunday evening brought division among leaders, some of whom claimed they were left out of his itinerary.

Governors appeared excited about the visit, with the Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) chaired by Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya hoisting a welcome banner involving all the 14 governors.

"He (Mr Obama) is a first-generation Kenyan-America President, a record that no other US president has set, so we are lucky he is visiting, and to host him. The initiative (Sauti Kuu Foundation) is important because it will empower the youth." Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o said in Kisumu after a meeting of LREB.

His Siaya counterpart, Mr Cornel Rasanga, took pride in the fact that he was the host and pledged to support any initiatives the Barack Obama Foundation might start in the area.

"The County Government of Siaya welcomes the entire world to Siaya County during this auspicious visit by Mr Barack Obama and his entourage to his ancestral home in Nyang'oma Kogelo, Siaya County, Kenya," Mr Rasanga told reporters.

GREAT HONOUR

"We are proud of President Barack Obama as the first African American to ascend to an office of such great honour." the governor added.

Earlier, Kisumu Deputy Governor Mathews Owili, had likened the Mr Obama's visit to a much-needed rubber stamp to prove to the world that Nyanza had moved on from the violent post-election scenes witnessed last year.

Mr Obama, who is returning to Kenya for the first time since he left office nearly two years ago, will be visiting Kogelo for the first time in more than 20 years. He is now relieved of the tight protocol associated with the office, so some leaders have expressed dis-pleasure that he will still stick to a tight schedule.

Alego Usonga MP Sam Atandi, under which Kogelo falls, said it would be wrong for Mr Obama to leave without addressing the locals.

"I hope there will be an opportunity for him (Obama) to engage his kinsmen through the local leadership. I will be present, together with four invited Nyanza MPs," he said, without revealing who the four are.

Although they were invited to take part in the launch of the Sauti Kuu Vocational Centre, the legislator said, he was in the dark about any other programmes.

BRIEF MEETING

A tentative itinerary showed that Mr Obama will arrive in Kisumu via private jet at 8am and hold a brief meeting with Governor Nyong'o. He will then take a chopper to Kogelo and land at Ng'iya Girls High School.

After that, he is expected to meet with close family members, including his grandmother, Mama Sarah Obama. He will then speak at the launch of a vocational centre, an initiative by his sister, Ms Auma Obama.

Last evening it was not clear whether he would meet governors from other regions, although Mr Rasanga's office has indicated that he will attend the launch.

Mr Obama is expected to leave from Kisumu International Airport and head to South Africa, where he will deliver a lecture commemorating Mr Nelson Mandela's birthday.

"The agenda for the visit was announced before his visit, and it will be undiplomatic for us to load that agenda. We are just playing host and must respect the purpose of his coming here. We must not presuppose any other thing, that is not diplomatic etiquette, " Prof Nyong'o said, defending the organisers.

STRICT PROGRAMME

On Sunday, South East Alego MCA Joseph Mboha faulted the strict programme for Mr Obama's event in Kogelo.

"We would wish for Obama to address his brothers and sisters after inaugurating the resource centre. If this cannot happen, then we don't think his visit to the village is justified," Mr Mboha said.

"Coming to Kogelo and meeting only dignitaries but not his brothers and sisters for a public address is not right. Our people just want to see him and hear his voice," she added.

Former Kisumu Deputy Governor Ruth Odinga also expressed displeasure at the programme and criticised the plans to lock out key leaders from the Sauti Kuu Resource Centre inauguration.

"It is wrong for Obama to come and fail to meet local leaders and the public," she said.

By last evening, debate was raging on social media as to why Mr Obama would visit Kogelo but still do things formally, although that the restrictions that come with the office he held are no longer applicable.

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