Monday, June 29, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: The King of Kenya

He thinks he is king of the world!

"Kenyan village still seeking boost from ties with Obama" by Kevin Sieff Washington Post  June 27, 2015

KOGELO, Kenya — Barack Obama Okoth was tugging at his Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, trying to remember everything he could about the man he was named after.

“He lives in America, and he’s a king,” the 7-year-old said after a long pause. It’s easy to understand why the young Barack would think so. He attends Senator Barack Obama Primary School, a stop on the Barack Obama Safari Tour, near a hotel that offers a Barack Obama Suite.

You know, if I believed in that Anti-Christ bit I might think.... but then again, I'm not a birther (with Rivero on that one) and it seems we "elect" a new AC every four or eight years, so....

For as long as Barack has been alive, his village has been peppered with tributes to his namesake, the American president whose father was born here in 1936. Thousands of tourists have come to see the village the president described in his memoir — writing that his life’s trajectory “was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away.”

After Obama was elected, electricity arrived in Kogelo. The only road to the village was paved. A Kenyan security detail was dispatched.

Next month, Obama will make his first trip to Kenya as president. If he returns to Kogelo, he’ll find a village lifted by its association with the world’s most powerful man but still wrestling with disease and poverty. He’ll find people proud enough to name their boys Barack Obama but disappointed that he waited until the seventh year of his presidency to return to his father’s homeland.

“When he comes, we will present our problems,” said Edwin Okoth, Barack Obama Okoth’s father, his hands on his son’s shoulders.

That's going to be one hell of a greeting (smile).

It’s not only Kogelo that remains unsatisfied. Given the president’s familial connection to East Africa, many expected Obama to transform America’s relationship with the region. That hasn’t happened.

The White House has launched an initiative to expand access to electricity across the continent, and funding for public health and counterterrorism programs has increased, but by most measures, Africa has remained on the periphery of Obama’s foreign policy agenda. 

Nice narrative, but not really true. It's on the periphery of coverage is deepening AmeriKan involvement in Africa, and Africom formalized on his watch. 

But don't let all that spoil the trip.

“As a country, we expected more,” said Augustus Muluvi, head of foreign policy at the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, one of the country’s top think tanks. “We expected him to come earlier and we expected him to come with specific programs for Kenya and East Africa. This hasn’t been the case.”

We all did.

Edwin Okoth remembers when Obama visited Kogelo in 2006 as a senator. When Obama walked through the village’s open-air market, a crowd gathered. Okoth got as close as he could and waved. It amazed him that a man just one generation removed from Kogelo could become so important. When Okoth’s wife became pregnant the next year, he knew they would name the baby Barack Obama.

“Maybe the spirit of the man will follow the boy,” he remembers thinking.

The small hospital where Barack Obama Okoth was born is also where hundreds of the village’s HIV/AIDS patients are treated. Nearly 18 percent of Siaya County, where Kogelo is located, is HIV positive, according to Kenya’s National AIDS control council, nearly three times the national average.

In 2006, Obama took an HIV test here, an effort to remove the stigma from the exam. But since then, the fight against the disease has run up against cultural barriers to prevention and a lack of public health funding.

“We have been waiting for assistance from outside,” said the clinic’s doctor, George Musa. 

Well, it's been 6+ years now so....

Also in 2006, Obama visited the village’s primary and secondary schools, where his father attended. The schools were promptly renamed after him. And although some aid funds arrived when Obama became president, mostly from individual donors, the schools remain largely unchanged. The roofs leak. Many students drop out before high school because the fees are too expensive for their families.

Yeah, the schools here are in horrible shape, too. Then it was class di$mi$$ed!

In Barack Obama Okoth’s first-grade classroom recently, there were 84 students in one room.

“What’s seven plus three?” the teacher asked. She paused before choosing who to call on.

“Obama,” she said.

There was a brief moment of confusion — the class had two Barack Obamas.

Barack Obama Okoth stood up, but his nerves caught up with him. He froze in place before opening his mouth.

“Nine?” he said.

“Anyone else?” the teacher asked.

The boy sat back down. His mother had sewn the word ‘‘Obama’’ on his backpack, and he wore it everywhere, even now that he was sitting down in class. His father had explained what it meant to carry the name, the expectations that came along with it. It’s a sentiment repeated across Kenya.

Like many Muslims named their kids Osama after, you know.

“Huenda akawa Obama,” the group Sauti Sol croons in Swahili in a popular Kenyan song. “Maybe you will be Obama.”

The president’s visit to Kenya will focus on the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, where the president will probably emphasize the economic potential and innovation in East Africa, now home to dozens of small tech startups.

No discussion of the terror threat next door?


Nothing about the alleged war criminal leader he will be meeting?

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That is some welcome mat they are rolling out for him.