, NAIROBI, Kenya Jul 16 – Former US president Barrack Obama headed back to his ancestral home in the sleepy village of Kogelo on Monday morning, accompanied by a delegation keen to support local projects.
Obama arrived in the country on Sunday and held separate talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Obama’s jet landed at the Kisumu International Airport shortly before 9 am, where he was received by Governor Anyang Nyongo, before proceeding by road to Siaya where his ancestral home is located.
There was tight security in the 70 kilometers-stretch between Kisumu and Siaya, with officers lining up on both sides of the road, supervised by Secret Service personnel who could be seen at strategic locations.
His itinerary includes launching the Sauti Kuu centre that was put up by his half-sister Dr Auma Obama, and which is key in transforming the sleepy village of Nyang’oma.
Auma told journalists last week that the centre will mainly target to transform youths by offering an opportunity to pursue various tertiary courses. It also has various recreational facilities to help unlock the potential of local youth.
There has been tight security in the region, and particularly Kogello where the ceremony will be held.
At the end of the function, he will fly from Kisumu International Airport directly to South Africa where is scheduled to give a key note address during celebrations to mark 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
Mandela, who died in 2013, remains a global icon for his long fight against white-minority rule and for his message of peace and reconciliation when he was released after 27 years in prison.
His birthday on July 18 is marked annually around the world, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation called this year for people to “take action and inspire change” in Mandela’s name.
Obama will set the tone for the celebrations with a speech in Johannesburg on July 17 that aides say will be his most important public address since leaving the White House in 2017.
“It gives him an opportunity to lift up a message of tolerance, inclusivity and democracy at a time when there are obviously challenges to Mandela’s legacy around the world,” his aide Benjamin Rhodes told the New York Times.
Obama will also host a town hall event on July 18 for 200 young leaders selected from across Africa to attend a five-day training programme.
The former US president met Mandela only briefly in 2005 but gave a eulogy at his funeral saying Mandela “makes me want to be a better man” and hailing him as “the last great liberator of the 20th century”.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he would mark “Mandela 100” by donating half his salary to charity to honour “the great sacrifices he made and his tireless commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable.”
F.W. de Klerk, the former president who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993, told AFP that the 100th anniversary was a chance to reflect on South Africa’s current troubles.
“I’m convinced that President Mandela would be deeply concerned, as I am, about the present state of affairs,” he said.
“His vision of a reconciled South Africa has become almost non-existent within the ANC (ruling party) at the moment.”
De Klerk, who said he treasured his “deep friendship” with Mandela, added that he found hope in good race relations among many ordinary people.
A World Bank report this year said South Africa was the most unequal society on the globe, and many South Africans feel that Mandela’s hopes for the country have been dashed by his successors.
Others accuse him of “selling out” by allowing white people to retain control of much of the economy.
“He fought to make us politically free, but we are not economically free,” 19-year-old Soweto resident Mtate Phakela told AFP.
“We can’t access education or wealth. I have mixed feelings. He did his best, but people who came after could have done better.”
Among the many events marking the anniversary are a walk in Johannesburg led by Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, the release of letters that Mandela wrote from his prison cell and the printing of a commemorative banknote.
Climbers are heading up Mount Kilimanjaro, motorcyclists are undertaking a charity ride and a programme to build 100 school libraries will be launched, alongside a series of exhibitions, music festivals and sports events.
The year commemorating Mandela’s birth will finish with a concert in Johannesburg in December starring Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams and Cassper Nyovest.
Mandela was imprisoned under white-minority apartheid rule from 1962 and 1990 before he led the African National Congress party to victory in the first multi-race elections in 1994.
He served one term as president before stepping down in 1999.
The title of Obama’s Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture is “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World.”
Former speakers include Bill Clinton, Thabo Mbeki, Kofi Annan, Bill Gates and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.