Obama’s father and the origin of Muslim name


Published on 04/11/2008

By Joe Ombuor

Barack Obama Senior, an economist at the Treasury in the late 1960s, rubbed officials of Kenyatta’s Government the wrong way when he angrily demanded an explanation on Tom Mboya’s death, moments after the Minister for Economic Planning and Development was assassinated.

"I was with Tom only last week. Can the Government tell me where he is?" a distraught Obama Senior fulminated as he abandoned work in protest. An incensed official immediately handed him a sack.

US airlifts

Obama was emotionally attached to Mboya who made it possible for him to further his education in the US. "It was courtesy of Mboya’s famous airlifts that Obama landed at the University of Hawaii," says Mr Hezron Ogembo, who like Obama Snr’s father, Onyango Obama, is a native of Kanyadhiang near Kendu Bay, Rachuonyo District.

Ogembo says Obama Snr was a close friend. "We met at social places. Barack loved his whisky. We often drank together".

After his sacking, Obama Snr worked with Shell/BP as a senior accountant until after Mzee Kenyatta’s death in 1978 when his long time friend, Mwai Kibaki, who was then Finance minister returned him to the Treasury.

Ogembo says the friendship between Kibaki, now President, and Obama Snr started at the treasury where they worked together.

Small boy

Barack Obama Senior, the late father of United States Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. [PHOTO: FILE]

He clarifies that although Obama Snr was buried in Alego Kogelo following his sudden death in a car crash in Nairobi, he was not born there.

"His father, Onyango Obama who was also buried in Kogelo, moved with his family to this village in Alego, Siaya, when Obama Snr was a small boy after he was persuaded to do so by his brothers," says Ogembo.

He says Onyango Obama was the second born son of Obama Opiyo’s eight sons. "He was the only one from the family recruited to fight in the Second World War. He came back a Muslim — Onyango Hussein Obama — after having married his first wife Helima during his service in Zanzibar.

Explaining the Obama family link to Kogelo that today is associated with Senator Obama’s Kenyan roots, Ogembo says Obama Snr’s grandfather was born and brought up in the sleepy village in Siaya that has found itself in international news.

Twin brother

"Opiyo, the grandfather to Obama Senior grew up in Alego Kogelo. He had a twin sister called Jalang’o," narrates Ogembo. "Jalang’o in her turn got married to a man in Karachuonyo, Kanyadhiang near Kendu Bay. Due to her love for her twin brother, she invited Opiyo to join her there because land was in plenty at the time.

"Opiyo got married to a woman from Kendu Bay and among his sons was Obama Opiyo, the grandfather to Obama Snr.

"As fate would have it, Obama Opiyo’s second born son, Onyango Obama was exposed to the world by his experiences in the second world war and returned a a controversial figure who did not agree with the highly respected chief and Chairman of the Luo Council of Elders at the time, Paul Mbuya Akoko.

To save Onyango from trouble with the chief, his brothers advised him to migrate to their ancestral land in Alego, Kogelo near Siaya in then Central Nyanza District and secure it for posterity.

Ogembo says by the time of his migration from Karachuonyo, Onyango Obama had already lost his wife, Akumu Nyanjoga, the mother to Barack Obama Snr and married Sarah Ogwel — the now famous grandmother.

Two mothers

Recalls Ogembo: "Obama Sr was fond of invoking the names of his two mothers whenever he was with his friends in social places, reminding them that he was the proud son of two mothers — Akumu Nyanjoga and Sarah Ogwel. An wuod Akumu Nyanjoga kod Sarah Ogwel (I am the son of Akumu Nyanjoga and Sarah Ogwel) was his characteristic vaunt in social places

"Obama Snr had his early education at Gendia Primary School near Kendu Bay and joined Ng’iya Intermediate School when the family moved to Alego Kogelo bfore proceeding to Maseno.

Before Obama Snr’s airlift to America, he was already married to his elder wife, Keziah. Ann Dunham, the mother of Sen. Barack Obama whom he met at college in Hawaii, was his second wife.

Brilliant scholar

Ogembo says Obama Snr returned to Kenya after his PhD at Harvard without Ann, but with another white woman, Ruth with whom he did not live with for long, either. Ruth remarried and still lives in Kenya. "I remember Obama Snr as a brilliant scholar, immensely proud of his academic achievements," says Ogembo.

"He respected Kibaki’s academic prowess, but never hesitated to point out that Kibaki at no time beat him in academics.

"Obama Snr fondly talked about his son in the US, the boy who would grow up to be the Democratic US presidential candidate.

"He was an immensely proud and ambitious man who had little respect for non-achievers," recalls Ogembo.

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