Page 3 of 3   <      

A Kenyan Transition To Power

In a relatively short span of time, members of President-elect Barack Obama's extended Kenyan family have seen their daily routines replaced by the trappings and oddities of global fame.

But Mama Sarah received the visitors, as she does from dawn until dusk nearly every day, with one result being that she rarely leaves home anymore.

"She can hardly go places," said her son Said Obama, adding that when she went to pick up her passport last week, photographers mobbed her.

More than Kobama, which is often overlooked, the glow of fame has enveloped Kogelo, a gently hilly square mile or so of flowering trees, mud-walled huts and patchwork farms situated along a dirt road that was recently widened to accommodate an expected influx of visitors.

Malik Obama, Barack Obama's half brother, promotes the village as "the local capital of the world," and residents have been instructed on how to behave for tourists.

"They have told us to be friendly to people who come around," said Edgar Omondi, 27. "We don't hold any grudge against the family."

Kogelo's approximate center is a market area bounded by a horseshoe of one-story cement buildings including a butchery, general store, flour mill, tailor and the new but still-empty offices of the Obama Family Foundation, which will eventually fund community programs.

Next door is the newly established office of Eco Tours, where a smooth-talking guide, Joseph Ouma Oluoko, sits behind a desk trying to drum up business on a cellphone. His concepts include "Unknown Kogelo" and the "Obama Trails Tour," which would take visitors to the general spot where the future U.S. president sold cabbages with Mama Sarah during his 1987 visit.

"I want to do a community wildlife sanctuary with butterflies, birds, and locate the equator. And we're going to put a restaurant . . ." he began. "We can have stargazing -- you know African skies are different -- and we're training locals as tour guides. Money is a problem, but that will come."

It was about 4 p.m. then, the time of day when Mama Sarah would usually walk to the market, and the rhythm of life in Kogelo was still a few paces slower than Oluoko's sales pitch.

Women were hauling sacks of corn, potatoes and beans to the center of the horseshoe. Young men were pushing their bikes up the dirt paths toward the market. The newly electrified mill was humming. And from inside the refurbished Nyangoma Roadside Bar drifted buoyant Swahili dance music.

Under the shade of a stick shed, Mark Ogola sat on a bench with his friends as he usually does, discussing politics and the soaring price of local land.

He said that people were happy for the attention Obama's election had brought to the Kenyan side of the family and that most people hoped Kogelo would benefit from it. At the same time, he had some sympathy for Kogelo's new icon.

"Before, Mama Sarah used to move about freely," he said. "These days she is confined at home -- she can rarely be seen. . . . If you have been used to mixing with people and all of a sudden everything changes, I suppose that can make you feel miserable."

Although some of Mama Sarah's friends visit her, others have stopped coming because of the security procedures. "It's made me lose interest," said Brigitta Radier, who lives nearby.

The couple of times that Mama Sarah has appeared at the market since her grandson's election, she was seated in a car, surrounded by police. One of those times, she got out with a bodyguard and walked through the market, where people were happy to see her, said Bernard Mike Okoth, 28, who was there.

Other times, he said, "you just see her passing in a car, waving."

<          3

© 2009 The Washington Post Company