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Obama Reneges On Vow To African School

From the UK’s Evening Standard:

Barack Obama’s broken promise to African village

David Cohen, Evening Standard

It is an extraordinary sight to walk into a basic two-room house under a mango tree in rural east Africa and discover what is essentially a shrine to Barack Obama.

The small brick house with no running water, a tin roof and roving chickens, goats and cows is owned by Sarah Obama, Barack’s 86-year-old step-grandmother. Inside, the walls are decorated with a 2008 Obama election sticker, an old “Barack Obama for Senate” poster on which he has written “Mama Sarah Habai [how are you?]”, a 2005 calendar that says “The Kenyan Wonder Boy in the US”, and more than a dozen family photos.

But this bucolic scene in his father’s village of Kogelo near the Equator in western Kenya conceals a troubling reality that, until now, has never been spoken about. Barack Obama, the Evening Standard can reveal, after we went to the village earlier this month, has failed to honour the pledges of assistance that he made to a school named in his honour when he visited here amid great fanfare two years ago.

At that historic homecoming in August 2006 Obama was greeted as a hero with thousands lining the dirt streets of Kogelo. He visited the Senator Obama Kogelo Secondary School built on land donated by his paternal grandfather. After addressing the pupils, a third of whom are orphans, and dancing with them as they sang songs in his honour, he was shown a school with four dilapidated classrooms that lacked even basic resources such as water, sanitation and electricity.

He told the assembled press, local politicians (who included current Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga), and students: “Hopefully I can provide some assistance in the future to this school and all that it can be.” He then turned to the school’s principal, Yuanita Obiero, and assured her and her teachers: “I know you are working very hard and struggling to bring up this school, but I have said I will assist the school and I will do so.”

Obiero says that although Obama did not explicitly use the word “financial” to qualify the nature of the assistance he was offering, “there was no doubt among us [teachers] that is what he meant. We interpreted his words as meaning he would help fund the school, either personally or by raising sponsors or both, in order to give our school desperately-needed modern facilities and a facelift”. She added that 10 of the school’s 144 pupils are Obama’s relatives. Obiero was not the only one to think that the US Senator from Illinois, who had recently acquired a $1.65 million house in Chicago, would cough up. Obama’s own grandmother Sarah confidently told reporters before his visit: “When he comes down here, he will change the face of the school and, believe me, our poverty in Kogelo will be a thing of the past.”

But the Evening Standard has heard that the promises he made to help the school as well as a local orphanage appear to have been empty

Principal Obiero, 48, tells us: “Senator Obama has not honoured the promises he gave me when we met in 2006 and in his earlier letter to the school. He has not given us even one shilling. But we still have hope.”

The letter Obiero refers to – dated 22 June 2005, signed by Obama and addressed to her – was written after his election to the US Senate in 2004 and hangs, framed, on the wall of her spartan office alongside photographs of Obama’s visit to their school. It says: “I am honoured that you have decided to rename the Kogelo School in my name.

The land that the school is built on was donated by my grandparents and I am proud to carry on the tradition of supporting the school.”

Obiero and her board of governors followed up his letter offering ” support” with a bald, formal request for funds in the form of a nine-page proposal, a copy of which has been provided to the Evening Standard, laying out their ambitions for the school. In it they ask for 8.2 million Kenyan shillings (approximately £65,000) to upgrade the school. The money would be used, they say, to bring water to the school by sinking a borehole and building a water tank, erect a perimeter fence, complete the science laboratory and add much needed new classrooms, additional latrines, and a school dining hall.

Obiero recalls: “When the US Ambassador William Bellamy came to visit the school for the official renaming ceremony in February 2006, we gave him two copies of the proposal, one for the Embassy and one to give to Senator Obama. But we have not heard anything from either of them since.”

Recently, she adds, she gave another copy of the proposal to Obama’s Kenyan half-sister, Auma Obama, who recently returned to Nairobi after living in England and working in children’s services in Reading. Auma had been married to a British man but they are now divorced. “Auma also promised to pass it on to her brother,” says Obiero…

During Obama’s visit to the school, he opened their half-finished science laboratory (built with £4,900 raised by the community) and wrote in the visitor’s book: “Congratulations on the new laboratory!” Today, the lab has been mothballed because they ran out of funds to equip it and because, critically, there is no running water. “We must pay the man with the donkey to fetch us water from the river four kilometres away,” says Obiero. The situation in the school mirrors that of Kogelo village where the people live without water, electricity or access to proper healthcare and on average incomes of less than $1 a day. Yet they remain diehard fans of the man who has put their rural community on the map and have even renamed the beer, called Senator, in his honour: locals now order “an Obama”…

Obama had visited Kogelo for the first time in the 1980s after attending Columbia University and then again in 1991 to research his memoirs after graduating from Harvard Law School. He would later become a civil rights lawyer and community organiser before going into politics and serving in the Illinois Senate in 1997 and then the US Senate in 2004.

On those two voyages of personal discovery to Kogelo, he learned that his grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, who lived to 105 according to his gravestone (1870-1975), had been a respected elder and witchdoctor

Gladys Anyango, 60, does an impromptu Obama impression to the amusement of her fellow peddlers. She places her hands on her hips, gazes into the middle distance and, mimicking his deep voice, says: “How are you, people of Kogelo?” Her friends collapse with laughter. She also takes off Obama’s wife, Michelle, who had accompanied him on his visit along with his two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

“Oh, but there will be a big party here when Obama wins,” she adds. “We still have hope that he will bring electricity and build schools so the children have a good education. Maybe when he’s President of America, he’ll remember his roots and look after his community in Kenya.”

Was Mr. Obama intending to fund this school himself, or with Oprah money?

Otherwise, why should the US taxpayers be funding a shrine to him? Because some of his distant relatives go there?

“Senator Obama has not honoured the promises he gave me when we met in 2006 and in his earlier letter to the school. He has not given us even one shilling. But we still have hope.”

They got the “hope” part, but not the “change.” At least not yet.

Alas, this part is probably all too true:

“We still have hope that he will bring electricity and build schools so the children have a good education. Maybe when he’s President of America, he’ll remember his roots and look after his community in Kenya.”

Mr. Obama certainly will be the President of the world — with Africa at the top of the list of the new beneficiaries.

Won’t that be wonderful for the US taxpayer?

Still we would like to see those impressions of Mr. and Mrs. Obama.

(Thanks to Mike Wolf and Retire05 for the heads up.)

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, July 27th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

One Response to “Obama Reneges On Vow To African School”

  1. kywrite says:

    I don’t understand this at all, if this is how it still stands. He could easily make a single phone call to a for-profit event planner, tell them to put together a charity dinner for this school (their pay to be a percentage of the income), and then just come and give a half-hour speech. With thousand-dollar plates, he’d have no trouble whatsoever making the approximately $100,000 that school needs, and probably much more.

    To not do something so simple to help so many children from his father’s homeland – it’s incredibly selfish. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so selfish before.

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