Barack Obama came back ‘home’, this time as an ordinary citizen, last week. For Kenyans, though, it did not matter that he is now a retired president-he has just as much pull.
For the residents of Kogelo, home of the Obama clan, it was even more of an occasion to be proud of -this nondescript village in the middle of nowhere lays claim to having “produced” a president of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. It’s a claim to fame unmatched anywhere else outside of the US itself.
In his speech at Kogelo, Obama gently chided Kenyans for our attempts to project ourselves as being somehow “related” to him. These days, everyone in Siaya is a “distant cousin” of Obama, and the closer you get to Kogelo, the more the claims of blood kinship.
Our collective self-confidence as a country has taken such a beating from poverty and bad leadership and corruption that we instinctively reach out to find non-existent connections to people like Obama, whose squeaky-clean image while in office stands in stark contrast to those of the other recent occupants of that high office- Bill Clinton and GW Bush come to mind.
Obama related the story of how he was once abandoned, penniless and without a place to board, by his half-brother, Malik. But that is sometimes inevitable, as any Kenyan lucky-or dumb- enough to move “abroad” knows.
As every Kenyan knows, our kin abroad are forgotten by their relatives back home until it’s school opening time in Kenya- at which point the son or daughter abroad is suddenly remembered.
This remembrance is not free. Whenever a relative abroad comes to mind, what your typical Kenyan in Kenya is thinking about is free money. The excuses are myriad: some relatives in Kenya will entice or browbeat their kin abroad into “investing” in sham projects “back home”.
When the poor fellow working his butt off abroad has saved enough money to fly home and check on their “project”, he arrives to a shocking scene: there’s no “project”.
The money has been spent by the relative at home on “important things”, and the poor fellow working abroad is left to rue having trusted his relative.
And it’s not just investment projects – people working abroad are suckered into helping pay (imaginary) school fees, paying dowry for second and third wives, and the like.
And so Obama is lucky he was the broke one when Malik left him high and dry. Had he been a ‘loaded’ American, as we assume all Americans are, chances are that his relatives would have found ways of getting money from him for some urgent project – building a house for Mama Sarah, or setting up an NGO, or something similar.
This gonya gonya “help-me help-me” would have been accompanied by lies and whatever would pass for corruption at that level.
If you’re unlucky enough to “work abroad”, it might be time to change your phone number – quietly, secretly, so no one back home knows you’re fleeing from their ‘gonya gonya’ tendencies.
Who knows, with the relatives, real and forced off your back, you could finally save a few dollars and do something with yourself in your new country.