At the burial of Mama Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama on Tuesday, one thing was clear -- leaders and her relatives wanted the family united.
They all called for unity, saying it was the wish of the family matriarch, who died aged 99 years, a few days shy of her 100th birthday.
The death of Mama Sarah has left a gap on who the senior-most member and spokesperson -- the ‘face of the Obamas -- is, with reports of wrangles among her children and grandchildren.
While former United States President Barack Obama remains the face of the family internationally, there have been questions on who will now take over, with family feuds on who is to be the head simmering behind the scenes.
During the burial, this was evident when some family members complained about a decision they said had been made by Auma Obama, Mama Sarah’s granddaughter, to limit the number of mourners allowed inside the home.
When some family members from Kendu Bay protested, one was heard retorting: “The sendoff, of my grandmother and the affairs of the bigger Obama family, cannot be controlled remotely by someone from Germany.”
This was a clear reference to Auma, who is based in the European country and is close to former President Obama, her half-brother.
There is, however, a general feeling that she is not well-rooted in Kenya and therefore, the family needs a point-person who can easily articulate the family’s interests.
This has been a concern and now there seems to be a consensus by many that Said Obama, Mama Sarah’s fifth-born son, should take over as the official spokesperson of the family.
The firstborn child of Mama Sarah is Omar Obama, who lives in Boston, USA, the second is the late Zeituni, followed by Yusuf, a daughter, Masat, while the last born is Ojijo, also a daughter.
Died in infancy
Two of her children died in infancy.
According to Mzee Vitalis Awandu Ondewe, the chairman of the Kogelo community from Siaya, Homa Bay and Kisumu counties, the automatic spokesperson is Said, because he is based at home in Siaya and the others who could have been spokespersons call him uncle.
The contenders might be either Auma or Malik Abong’o Obama.
Malik is 62, while Said is 56.
“Without question, the family spokesperson is Said Obama. Many of those who are still alive call him uncle, so in the pecking order, he is the most senior,” said Mzee Ondewe.
He ruled out Masat, who is on the ground in Kogelo and is referred to as Migogo -- daughter of the home -- saying according to Luo culture, she cannot take the leadership role when her brothers are alive.
Mzee Ondewe, a former councillor of South Alego, said there is need to have someone who is well acquainted with the family history and is also a unifying factor between those in Kenya and others overseas.
“The other reason Said is the best bet is that despite his age, he is level-headed and can unite the family and give sound advice when needed,” said Mzee Ondewe.
The Obama family is divided into two, with half of it at Kogelo in Siaya, while other family members are in Kendu Bay, Rachuonyo, where their great grandfather is buried.
President Obama’s great grandfather is said to have left Alego in Siaya and settled at Kanyadhiang in Kendu Bay where the grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama was brought up.
Hussein Onyango died in 1979 and was buried in Kogelo, Siaya. His wife, Mama Sarah, was buried next to him.
The family in Siaya includes half-brothers and half-sisters Malik Obama, Mark Obama, George Obama, and the late David Obama.
When he was invited to pay tribute to his grandmother on Tuesday, Malik was overwhelmed and almost broke down before two of his relatives stood beside him to offer support.
Contenders for spokesperson
He is usually controversial and outspoken and better known than the other contenders for spokesperson.
When the Nation asked him about who will be the family spokesperson, Malik said it should be the oldest person in the family. He said he did not mind who speaks on the family’s behalf, so long as they are all united.
“For me, it doesn’t matter who is up there, we will respect our elders like we have always done and hope that we remain united like we were under Mama Sarah,” he said.
The family is yet to come out openly on who the spokesperson is, and Mr Said confirms this.
“We are still recovering from the loss and are yet to sit to choose a family spokesperson. We will decide on that, if need be, in the future,” he said.
He, however, said the family will be approaching partners to discuss how Mama Sarah’s projects will be run.