Strange revearsal in Kogelo

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Kenyan relatives of US President Barack Obama attend a media briefing in Nyangoma Kogelo village in Kenya’s Nyanza Province on November 3, 2008. Kogelo is the Obama family’s ancestral village. Photo/REUTERS 

Posted  Friday, January 23   2009 at  18:30

What I do know is that history returned… with a vengeance… the past is never dead and buried — it isn’t even past.

Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father.

In Kogelo on the morning of November 5, Barack Obama had barely finished making his victory speech on the generator-run TV when the first of the Kenya Power & Lighting men arrived at Mama Sarah Hussein’s gate.

Few among the jubilant villagers and the media crowd, the 200 or so journalists mostly from the other side of the world, took notice as the men in the blue overalls wriggled their way through the crowd, digging holes in the ground, planting poles, stretching cables and generally sweating their way towards an unstated deadline. Kogelo had to be on the national grid, presumably before the next live CNN broadcast.

The chief engineer was harassed, and perplexed. He was taking instructions on his mobile phone and barking them out to his men. Orders from above, he told me. Usually it would take a week per kilometre to pull the line from the main road, a job that would have taken seven weeks for this village. They had done it in a matter of hours. And Nyangoma-Kogelo (total population: 3,648) wasn’t even on his worksheet.

It was the same with everything else that week, everything that was part of the government’s hasty attempt at creating a Potemkin village before the world descended on Kogelo.

The 9-kilometre stretch from the market at Ng’iya to Mama Sarah’s home had been graded in four days by a battalion of Caterpillar earthmovers and 11 yellow tipper-trucks working around the clock.

The police, following an attempted burglary at Mama Sarah’s, had built a police post in the Kogelo Dispensary compound and erected another in her compound. There was talk of piped water.

Still, government officials found it necessary to deny, feebly, that there was any special attention being accorded to Kogelo.

“We were on our way here,” said Senior Superintendent Johnstone Okasida Ipara, the seniormost policeman in Siaya District. “This is a project sponsored by the community.” But he did admit that Kogelo was being staffed by more police officers than was stipulated in the Force Standing Orders. Another official told me that the grading of the road had nothing to do with Obama. The Ng’iya-Kogelo road, he said, was “priority number one of the District Development Committee for the Financial Year 2007-2008”.

What had struck me earlier at Ng'iya how unchanged it was from the last time I had been there, 20 years before as a student of Mbeji Academy.

There were more people now, selling little things for tiny margins at the roadside.

Many of them now stood closer to the highway than I remembered, accosted every passing car with a bottle of Aquamist water, Zain and Safaricom scratch cards.

There were many more young men hanging around the edges of the market, many surrounding the Senator Barack Obama Primary School signboard so that it was easy to miss it and therefore miss the turnoff to Kogelo.

I remembered the women riding bicycles and smoking cigarettes with the burning ends stuck in their mouths. I didn’t see any but the market still stood knee-deep in the red earth.

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