Things were not going well on the eve of the 2008 US presidential election for the small band of hacks gathered at the Obama compound in Western Kenya. Never mind that I had been a frequent visitor during the previous four years, Barack Obama’s half brother, Malik, was refusing us entry for election night.
He was sick and tired of journalists pitching up, asking questions, taking photos and then buggering off. What was in it for him, he not unreasonably wondered.
A goat, I decided with a close pal, would be in it for him.
After a careful selection process, I returned to the compound, presented aforementioned goat and secured access. I mentioned this in passing to my then foreign editor, Richard Beeston at The Times, as I pitched him a story about how Kenya was going to go wild on election night. I have kept his SMS response ever since:
“Rob love the goat story. Does it have a name? Will it be slaughtered in celebration. Can you file in good time for first ed? Thx R”
There’s only one thing to take to a Kenyan election victory feast: a goat. Preferably still breathing, a sign of freshness, and with big testicles, apparently the sign of quality breeding.
And so it was that The Times bounced along a dirt track towards the ancestral home of the Obamas in a saloon car with the sound of John (inevitably its name) bleating miserably from the boot. It had not been easy finding such a quality specimen. The local livestock market had mostly sheep and cattle, with only a few scrawny goats on hand.
Instead, John was spotted at the side of the road by my driver, George, who was impressed by the size of its belly and other attributes. He was ours for 2,500 shillings, a little under Pounds 20, and roughly the price of 20 pints of beer or eight mosquito nets.
“This is a fine animal,” said Abongo Malik Obama, the candidate’s eldest half brother, at the lush family homestead in the far west of Kenya. “You are certainly welcome now to stay and sit around the fire tonight.”
The rest is somewhere behind the paywall….