Obama thrills his relatives in Kenya

18 February 2007 - 02:00 By unknown

BARACK Obama's decision to run for the American presidency will come as no surprise to the 300 inhabitants of Nyangoma Kogela in western Kenya, his ancestral home.

Those in the Aids-ravaged hamlet of brick huts, where chickens and goats roam free, have known for a long time that their favourite son was destined for great things - though only a handful admit to believing that he could become the first black president of the US.

One of those is the woman who brought up his father and then encouraged him to go and study in the US - an event that led directly to Obama's own odyssey.

"I have had a dream, you see, a recurring dream ... I have seen Barack surrounded by soldiers in dress uniform. At first I did not understand it, but now I realise it is because he is president," Sarah Hussein Onyango Obama, his 84-year-old step-grandmother, recently confided in an interview.

She met Obama on his first visit to Kenya in 1987. She said that she realised immediately he was special and "praised God" that he had been able to have such a good education.

"Here we all believe education is the key ... His father had always talked about how well he was doing at school. When he came to stay with us the first time it must have been difficult, but he never let it show," she said. "He ate the same food as the rest of us, eggs, goat, sometimes fish."

Obama's father, also Barack Obama, died in a car crash in 1982. He had left Kenya on a scholarship to Hawaii, where he met Obama jnr's mother. He later left his wife and two-year-old son and returned to Kenya. Obama saw his father only once more, several years later.

The walls of the house where Sarah - the second wife of Obama snr's father - brought up six children, are plastered with photographs of the local hero who has won superstar status.

His visit in August 2006, soon after winning his Senate seat, convinced them that they had produced a winner.

Said Hussein Obama, his uncle and a technician in the nearby regional centre of Kisumu, recalled how he helped Obama jnr to research his book Dreams From My Father when he visited Kenya in 1992.

During that visit he learnt that his father - a man that he had idolised throughout his youth - had fallen from grace as one of the leading economists in Kenya and died a drunkard.

"We toured all the slums together. It was an eye-opening experience," said Hussein. He said that he watched with pride as his nephew infuriated Kenyan politicians on his last visit with an attack on corruption during a university lecture.

"Everybody here was behind him. Our politicians know they can't criticise him like they can white Westerners. People here are so happy. He is a role model and an achiever."

Many hope that Obama will put the village, not far from Lake Victoria, on the map, opening up commercial possibilities in an area where most people live on less than a dollar a day.

The village has already enjoyed some benefits: a school, which the senator helped to finance, bears his name and a new well that cost $2000 provides clean water to several neighbouring villages.

"No way we would have ever got that money before, but it was easy. All sorts of people sent us donations after Barack visited," said Wilson Obama, a cousin. - © The Times, London