Malik Abon’go Obama yearns for the days when he and his half-brother were closer.
Two decades before Barack Obama became U.S. president, Malik fulfilled a pledge to their father to bring his sibling home to their village in western Kenya. Barack visited the house of Barrack Hussein Obama Sr. for the first time and met other relatives including his step-grandmother, Sarah Obama.
During the 1988 trip, Malik says he would take his “down-to-earth,” then-teetotaller half-brother into the bush in search of chang’aa, the illicit alcohol that translates as “kill me quick.” The two would also play games such as one in which Barack would try and step on the older Malik’s toes.
These days, they aren’t so close. Malik, 57, says he’s never been invited to the Obama family home in the U.S. And he’s still waiting to be told by Obama that he’ll be visiting the land of his father’s birth this month. The Kenyan presidency said the July 24 visit won’t include a trip to Kogelo, 310 kilometers (193 miles) northwest of the capital, Nairobi.
“From what I hear, he is coming now as the president of the United States,” Malik said in a June 29 interview at his home in Kogelo. “He should have at least informed us as his family.”
Even though the government’s denied it, there’s feverish speculation in Kogelo that Obama will travel there. Ogito Odipo, a 67-year-old flour miller, said he had heard on the radio that Obama would come to the village for four hours. Immaculate Achieng, 24 and owner of the one-room Nyang’oma restaurant, said she follows what President Obama does on television and would like him to visit.
With more visitors knocking at the door of Sarah Obama, the government has paved the road from the city of Kisumu 70 kilometers away to her gate and connected the village to the electricity grid. Mama Sarah Obama Road, close to her home, has a primary and secondary school named after Senator Barack Obama, while a new hotel was built this year to accommodate visitors.
Sarah Obama, 94, lives across the road from Malik on about 2 acres of land where her late husband Hussein Onyango Obama and Barack Hussein Obama are buried. The homestead has free-range chickens and cattle roaming around and is littered with mangoes that have fallen from the trees.
“Obama is coming as guest of the state and to see people of Kenya, not me,” she said.
When Obama made his first trip to Africa as president in 2013, he avoided traveling to Kenya, visiting South Africa, Senegal and neighboring Tanzania instead. Local newspapers like the Nairobi-based Business Daily called that decision a snub.
At the time, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was facing trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity linked to post-election violence in 2008. The charges have since been dropped.
Now, Eric Omondi, a popular comedian, has captured the public mood by calling one of his shows ‘Obama Homecoming’. In Nairobi, the local government is cleaning streets, planting palm trees and clearing drainage tunnels in preparation for Obama’s arrival.
Malik, who no longer drinks alcohol, reminisces about the days when he and Obama would listen to music by Congolese artists like Franco and Mario, or the time when he served as best man at Obama’s wedding. The visit may be an opportunity to spend a bit more personal time with his half-brother, he said.
“I would like for us to just sit down and have a vanilla ice cream or a strawberry fruit cake, just to have a nice dinner, nice steak, Caesar salad, sit down and enjoy each other,” Malik said. “I really don’t know my nieces, Malia and Sasha and they don’t know my children either.”