The man who could be America's first black president arrives in Britain today on his triumphant foreign tour. But despite the Obama hype, the Evening Standard can reveal that the charismatic leader has failed to deliver pledges to improve life in a poverty-stricken Kenyan community he insists has a special place in his heart
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.
Seven months ago I travelled to Iowa to cover the start of the US primaries and was impressed by Obama's charisma and integrity as he kicked off a thrilling battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Now, with only John McCain standing in the way of him making history as America's first black President, and amid the fanfare over his current world tour, nowhere is this possibility more eagerly awaited than in Kogelo, the place where his father and grandfather are buried.
Yet there is disappointment and hurt here, too. Granting us access to the school and its records, 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. …