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Kenya witch doctor foretells Obama visit

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President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks to reporters about the fiscal cliff in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

KOGELO, Kenya — President Obama is not officially scheduled to visit his ancestral home when he visits East Africa this week, but witch doctor John Dimo knows better.

After tossing some shells and animal bones on the ground, Dimo is convinced the American president will come to this tiny village, home of Mama Sarah Obama, 95, his step-grandmother, and the burial place of Barack Obama Sr., his father.

“The results indicate that Obama will come to Kogelo,” Dimo told a circle of residents this month as they cheered with excitement at the prospect of a presidential visit as they watched his fortunetelling ritual. “It’s a big secret, and he need not tell anybody that he will be visiting his ancestral home.”

Dimo said he has a good track record for predicting the future: When Obama visited Kogelo in 2006 as a U.S. senator — before he announced his White House run — Dimo predicted he would someday become president.

“Believe me, I said Obama will become the U.S. president and it came to pass,” he told onlookers. “Now, I can see he has planned to visit the village. He will come.”

The village’s anticipation is matched by excitement throughout Kenya as it prepares for Obama’s arrival Friday to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the capital of Nairobi — the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to the country.

Crews are beautifying streets, repairing traffic lights and replacing old signs. Business owners are spiffing up their storefronts and sidewalks.

In Kogelo, about 200 miles northwest of the capital, villagers have erected an Obama statue to mark the president’s visit. Local officials have renovated his father’s grave. Merchants are selling Obama T-shirts, jeans and portraits.

“President Obama should find his home clean,” said Janet Atieno, a woman planting flowers at the Kogelo Village Resort hotel in case the president drops by. “We’ve been cleaning the village since the news of his visit was announced.”

Obama is not particularly close with his father’s side of the family — the president’s mother and his father divorced after three years of marriage — but his grandmother said she wanted to see him again.

“We’re prepared to host him,” said Mama Sarah Obama — whom the president refers to as “Granny” in his memoir. “It’s a big win to all Kenyans.”


Mama Sarah Obama, who has became a national celebrity in Kenya since her grandson assumed office, said Obama promised he would visit her when she spoke with the president while on a tour of the U.S. two years ago.

“We had a lengthy discussion with Obama, and he promised me that he will come to Kenya and visit the village,” she said. “He was waiting for the country to gain political stability before he can visit.”

Obama declined to visit Kenya on an African trip in 2013, citing charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court related to violence during a 2008 election. The charges have since been dropped, and Obama is now slated to meet Kenyatta.

Gov. Cornel Rasanga, who oversees the region that includes Kogelo, said his office is ready to receive Obama if he visits the village, adding that he would ask the president to help secure funding for four projects in the region — a university, a medical training college, a pediatric hospital and a power plant.

Obama’s celebrity status has long drawn funding and tourists to Kogelo. After he became president, the village got electricity, paved roads and other improvements.

Four institutions have sprung up there, too. The Mama Sarah Obama Foundation cares for widows and orphans who have lost spouses and parents to HIV/AIDS, and the Barack H. Obama Foundation, founded by the president’s half-brother, develops sources of clean drinking water.

After his 2006 visit, the village’s two schools were renamed Senator Obama Secondary School and Senator Obama Primary School. Both educate children referred by Mama Sarah Obama’s group. “I personally didn’t go to school because during our day, education was meant for rich people,” Mama Sarah Obama said. “But I decided to ensure that children without parents also access education through my foundation.”

Obama family members donated land to expand the schools and international donors have helped them operate. Henry Odongo, principal of the secondary school, said he hopes to ask the president to secure more help. “It will be an opportunity to remind him when he visits the village,” Odongo said.

The foundations and schools have transformed Kogelo, residents said. “I wouldn’t have had access to education without the foundation’s sponsorship,” said LilianAdiambo, a student at the secondary school. “Both my parents died when I was still young. But I give thanks to Mama Sarah Obama, who came to my rescue.”

WillysOnyango, 27, a handcart pusher who works for Mama Sarah Obama’s Foundation, said he’d likely be unemployed without Obama’s ties to the village. “His position as a president has earned us jobs and we’re glad,” said Onyango. “We love him, and we are nervously waiting for his visit.”


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