By Jenn Jagire
MUCH has been written about Sarah Onyango Obama, the US President electâ€™s grandmother and very little about his stepmother Keziah Grace Aoko Obama, the other important African woman in his life.
By the way, the Western media has mistakenly referred to Obamaâ€™s grandmother as Sarah Obama. She should, rightfully, be called Sarah Onyango. Her husband was Onyango. It was her father-in-law who was called Obama. In Africa, a woman cannot be referred to by her father-in-lawâ€™s name.
In Luo culture, it is believed that the mistake of so doing could cause a bad omen referred to as ciira. The grandmotherâ€™s maiden Ogwel, should also be remembered. It will remain important to her grandchildren and later generations because in African every child gets their own surname and women often retain their maiden names even into old age.
However, letâ€™s get back to Keziah Aoko Obama. Keziah married Obama Sr (the president electâ€™s father) under the Luo customary laws that involved paying bride price.
We must not edit out this widow if we are to get a more accurate picture of the late Dr. Barack Obama Sr. Remember also that true Africans never forget a widow. For those who believe God, He has instructed us to look after widows.
Even those who do not believe in God know that Jwok or Jok (Spirit) among the Luo requires that widows be looked after.
Aside from honouring her as the economics doctorâ€™s widow, Keziah should be remembered because she was central to senior Obamaâ€™s life to the very end.
I heard of Dr. Obamaâ€™s death one afternoon in 1982 when one of Keziahâ€™s relatives Shem Nyamai, an insurance executive, told some of the relatives and friends that he had perished in a motor accident. That week there were meetings of close relatives, clan members and in-laws to prepare for the funeral in Dr Obamaâ€™s rural home.
Other meetings took place at Keziahâ€™s siblingsâ€™ residence in Nairobiâ€™s Kariokor flats. Infact Jane Obonyo, Keziahâ€™s sister, was the woman who telephoned the future US president to inform him about his fatherâ€™s death. Her advantage was that she was a telephone operator in Nairobi.
Although Dr. Obama only returned to Keziah the wife of his youth in his later years, she was the widow present when the clan gave him a Luo burial.
I first met Keziah Obama in 1982 and found her to be a very motherly figure and by all evidence, she must have played a motherly role when the president elect visited Kenya.
It was Keziah Obamaâ€™s daughter, Auma Obama, who picked him up from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. She took him to Janeâ€™s residence in Kariokor flats where Keziah Obama also lived. The two women introduced the future president to many African meals like ugali, sukuma wiki, spinach, and kunde while he stayed with them. African women do not usually talk about the food they have prepared for visitors but this time we may have to.
During this visit the future president also lived with Auma (Keziahâ€™s daughter) at her residence in the plush suburb of Kileleshwa in Nairobi. It was these three women (all of them step relatives to Barack Obama) who first ushered him into Africa. Such is the extent of African hospitality and the role of the extended family in our welfare system.
It is quite unlike the usual cultural beggar status that has been the dominant Western norm for defining Africans.
Keziah had started living in the Kariokor flats with her sister Jane shortly after the burial of Dr. Obama in 1982.
Later that year in her bid to look for work Keziah visited a relative called Diana who lived in Mombasa. Diana worked with the Kenya Railways and was married to an Englishman called Archie Lindsay.
Lindsay, who once worked with East African Railways was a neighbour to former Uganda Army commander Idi Amin in Kololo before he became president.
Lindsay remembered with some degree of nostalgia that Amin used to drive his own Land Rover despite his rank.
Though Briton, Lindsay, was rather Africanised so much that he easily ate African foods including ugali and sukuma wiki, without any cutlery.
Later, Keziah returned to Nairobi to live with her sister. Her biological son, Abongo Obama travelled to the US. It was Abongo who later constructed his mother a permanent house in her matrimonial home. The house is referred to as the house of Dr. Obama, in accordance with Luo customs.
Abo and Ben Obama, the younger sons of Keziah were teens at the time and their daughter Auma Obama was studying at a German university where she later earned a doctoral degree.
Keziah had the opportunity to visit her daughter n and son in Germany and in the US respectively. While in the US, she met Ann Dunham, the late mother of Barack Obama.
When Keziah returned to Kenya, she was happier, full of confidence and self-esteem. Somehow she spoke English with a little American Ebonics (Black) accent.
Keziah therefore, should not get stereotyped negatively the American way as the â€œstrong Black womanâ€ to be given the colonial â€œMummyâ€ image as a woman who can take in everything. Rather, with humility and dedication she nurtured her children with the support of her extended family.
When Dr. Obama was away in the U.S.A for studies, the children were taken care of by Keziah and her father in her parentsâ€™ home.
Keziah now lives in Bracknell England but maintains an omnipotent presence and status in the rural home in Nyangoma, Kogelo in Alego that is the home of the late Dr. Barack Obama Senior.