- - Thursday, June 14, 2018

KOGELO, Kenya — When President Obama left office in January 2017, many of his supporters at home and abroad said they would miss him.

Perhaps none were so openly heartbroken as residents of this small village in Kenya. The president’s familial ties brought boom times to Kogelo: international attention, hordes of tourists, and money for social welfare, scholarship and development programs all tied to Mr. Obama’s international celebrity and open pride in his Kenyan roots.

Now, with the good times a distant memory, the locals are hoping for a revival in tourism and donor largesse next month when they welcome Mr. Obama back to his ancestral homeland — his first visit to this village since before his presidency.

“We are happy [Mr. Obama] is coming, and this time to the village,” said Amos Onyango, 44, a resident who owns a grocery shop. “When Obama left office, we were left like orphans. All white people left the village, and we have never received visitors or any help like it used to be. We hope his visit will bring change once more.”

Mr. Obama’s late father, Barack Hussein Obama, was born and is buried in Kogelo.

The former U.S. president is slated to use this trip to visit relatives, including step-grandmother Mama Sarah Obama, 96, and half brother Malik.

He will then travel to South Africa, where he will deliver the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Obama Foundation.

Mr. Obama has been to Africa multiple times and visited Kenya once as president in 2015. But he bitterly disappointed villagers in this village close to Kenya’s western border with Uganda by not including them on his itinerary.

But Mr. Obama promised in 2015 to return: “I will be back to Kenya next time. I would also come with [daughters] Malia and Sasha. My family loves Kenya.”

Preparations for the visit are keeping villagers busy. Work has been nonstop for weeks on garden beds, gutters and the impressive potholes that keep drivers alert. The Obama family’s traditional home is being painted and renovated.

Residents said a team from the U.S. Embassy have visited locations in the village, including Senator Barack Obama Primary and Secondary School, Mama Sarah Obama’s home and the Sauti Kuu Foundation associated with the president’s elder sister, Auma Obama.

New realities

Mr. Obama will visit the East African nation against the backdrop of new political realities. Opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta recently reconciled after a bitterly disputed election that left more than 100 people dead, according to a Kenyan human rights group. Mr. Kenyatta’s crackdown on corruption, one of the nation’s most intractable problems, is gaining momentum.

Despite their decline in fortunes and his lengthy absence, Kogelo residents said they still consider Mr. Obama one of them.

“We love him as our son,” said Japhet Omollo, 67, an elder of the village.

They also hope Mr. Obama’s visit provides a boost to the local economy as well.

“We were very sad when he failed to visit the village as president,” said Mr. Onyango, the grocer. “Some of us felt that his failure to come contributed to the problems we have been going through as a village.”

Mr. Onyango said Kogelo residents are especially excited because they think Mr. Obama “is coming to launch several projects that will help the youths in the village.”

Kenyan press outlets say Mr. Obama will dedicate a new “global standard” sports facility in Kogelo, the first of its kind in the region, featuring a soccer field and volleyball and basketball courts.

During the Obama presidency, the once-sleepy village received local and global recognition as well as funding for development not witnessed in Kenya in the previous half-century. Suddenly there were funds for roads and schools, and investment dollars for hotels and tourist amenities.

But financial aid has dried up since Mr. Obama left office, including to the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, the Barack H. Obama Foundation and the Barack Obama Secondary School.

“When he comes, we need him to help the community,” said Mr. Omollo. “We have no hospital and water. Our children need to go to school, and we have no money.”

Still, many are sure of a turnaround.

“We want to welcome Obama home. His visit means a lot to us,” said Nicholas Rajula, a cousin of the president who owns a resort here. “Our businesses will now pick up, and residents will get support that will enable them to take their children to school.”

Mr. Obama’s step-grandmother said she will believe it only after Mr. Obama appears.

“I am not sure he will visit the village,” said Mama Sarah Obama. “But I will be very happy if he comes.”

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