Sharon Churcher, Daily Mail (London), Jan. 27, 2007
It is a classic story of the American dream made real: an impoverished Kenyan goatherd rising to become a brilliant Harvard-educated economist.
On the way he fights racial prejudice at home and corruption at work, survives the heartbreak of a broken relationship and, despite it all, leads the fight to rid Africa of its colonial legacy.
This extraordinary story is told by US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama as he recalls the life of the man who inspired him to political success—his father.
Mr Obama’s book, Dreams From My Father, is flying off the shelves of US book stores, exciting and astonishing readers in equal measure. It is a bestseller, and no wonder—because the story just gets better and better.
Mr Obama is already Democratic Senator for Illinois. Now he is in the running to be the first black President in the country’s history.
“My story is part of the larger American story,” he declared in the electrifying speech that won him his Senate seat just two years ago. “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
Many believe Mr Obama is a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s hopes of becoming the Democrats’ choice for their next Presidential candidate—and his lovingly written account of the debt he owes his father, also called Barack Obama, will do no harm at all to his Presidential hopes.
Indeed, by offering up a conveniently potted account of his personal history in this way, he might even have made a pre-emptive strike on those sure to pose the awkward questions that inevitably face a serious contender for the White House.
Yet an investigation by The Mail on Sunday has revealed that, for all Mr Obama’s reputation for straight talking and the compelling narrative of his recollections, they are largely myth.
We have discovered that his father was not just a deeply flawed individual but an abusive bigamist and an egomaniac, whose life was ruined not by racism or corruption but his own weaknesses.
And, devastatingly, the testimony has come from Mr Obama’s own relatives and family friends.
Charismatic and with movie-star looks, Barack Obama Jnr has managed to steal some of Hillary Clinton’s most influential supporters in the two weeks since he entered the US Presidential race.
The 45-year-old lawyer depicts himself as a fresh voice for voters tired of the divisive rhetoric and self-serving ambition of established politicians on each side of the Democrat-Republican divide.
His campaign to become the first black President is inspired, he says, by his love of the country that allowed his father to triumph against astonishing odds.
Barack Obama Snr started life with the advantage of being able to read and write, but he also felt a profound sense of injustice. His father was a cook for British settlers in Kenya, who demeaningly called him their ‘personal boy’.
Grandfather Obama sent his son to a missionary school but after completing his education, the youth could find little work except goatherding in his remote village of Nyangoma Kogela, in the roadless hills of Western Kenya.
At 18, he married a girl called Kezia. But Obama Snr was more interested in politics and economics than his family and his political leanings had been brought to the notice of leaders of the Kenyan Independence movement.
He was put forward for an American-sponsored scholarship in economics, with the idea being that he would eventually use his Western-honed skills in the new Kenya. At the age of 23 he headed for university in Hawaii, leaving behind the pregnant Kezia and their baby son.
Relatives say he was already a slick womaniser and, once in Honolulu, he promptly persuaded a fellow student called Ann—a naive 18-year-old white girl—to marry him. Barack Jnr was born in August, 1961.
Two years later, Obama Snr was on the move again. He was accepted at Harvard, and left his little boy and wife behind when he moved to the exclusive east coast university.
At the time, Ann explained to their son that his father had gone because his meagre stipend would not support the family if they lived together. But finance was the least of her worries.
Mr Obama Jnr claims that racism on both sides of the family destroyed the marriage between his mother and father.
In his book, he says that Ann’s mother, who went by the nickname Tut, did not want a black son-in-law, and Obama Snr’s father ‘didn’t want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman’.
In fact Ann divorced her husband after she discovered his bigamous double life. She remarried and moved to Indonesia with young Barack and her new husband, an oil company manager.
Obama Snr was forced to return to Kenya, where he fathered two more children by Kezia. He was eventually hired as a top civil servant in the fledgling government of Jomo Kenyatta—and married yet again.
Now prosperous with a flashy car and good salary, his third wife was an American-born teacher called Ruth, whom he had met at Harvard while still legally married to both Kezia and Ann, and who followed him to Africa.
A relative of Mr Obama says: “We told him [Barack] how his father would still go to Kezia and it was during these visits that she became pregnant with two more children. He also had two children with Ruth.”
It is alleged that Ruth finally left him after he repeatedly flew into whisky-fuelled rages, beating her brutally.
Friends say drinking blighted his life—he lost both his legs while driving under the influence and also lost his job.
However, this was no bar to his womanising: he sired a son, his eighth child, by yet another woman and continued to come home drunk.
He was about to marry her when he finally died in yet another drunken crash when Obama was 21.
Mr Obama’s 40-year-old cousin Said Hussein Obama told The Mail on Sunday: “Clearly, Barack has been very deeply affected by what he has learned about his father, who was my father’s older brother.
“You have to remember that his father was an African and in Africa, polygamy is part of life.
“We have assured Barack that his father was a loving person but at times it must be difficult for him to reconcile this with his father’s drinking and simultaneous marriages.”
Said adds: “His father was a human being and as such you can’t say that he was 100 per cent perfect.
“My cousin found it difficult when he came here to learn of his half-brothers and sisters born to four different mothers.
“But just as Africans find the Western world strange so Americans coming here will find Africa strange.”
Far from being an inspiration, the father whom Mr Obama was coming to know seemed like a total stranger.
In his book, he attempts to put the best face on it. His father, he writes, lost his civil service job after campaigning against corrupt African politicians who had ‘taken the place of the white colonials’.
One of Obama Snr’s former drinking partners, Kenyan writer Philip Ochieng Ochieng says, however, that his friend’s downfall was his weak character.
“Although charming, generous and extraordinarily clever, Obama Snr was also imperious, cruel and given to boasting about his brain and his wealth,” he said.
“He was excessively fond of Scotch. He had fallen into the habit of going home drunk every night. His boasting proved his undoing and left him without a job, plunged him into prolonged poverty and dangerously wounded his ego.”
Ochieng recalls how, after sitting up all night drinking Black Label whisky at Nairobi’s famous Stanley Hotel, Obama Snr would fly into rages if Ruth asked where he had been.
Ochieng remonstrated with his friend, saying: “You bring a woman from far away and you reduce her to pulp. That is not our way.”
But it was to no avail. Ruth sued for divorce after her husband administered brutal beatings.
In fact he was a menace to life, said Ochieng. “He had many extremely serious accidents. Both his legs had to be amputated. They were replaced with crude false limbs made from iron.
“He was just like Mr Toad [from Wind In The Willows], very arrogant on the road, especially when he had whisky inside. I was not surprised when I learned how he died.”
Ruth refused to comment on the abuse charges when we tracked her down to the Kenyan school where she now works.
She said: “I was married to Barack’s father for seven years so, yes, you could say Barack is my stepson.
“Barack’s father was a very difficult man. Although I was married to him the longest of any of his wives he wasn’t an easy person to be around.”
Mr Obama has acknowledged that his father grappled with a drinking problem. But with a gift for words that makes Mrs Clinton’s utterances seem stiff and stale, he has turned it into another component of the myth.
Drink, he says, like drugs, are one of “the traps that seem laid in a black man’s soul”.
Mr Obama claims that he, too, has been racially abused, even during his campaign for the White House.
His mother, Ann, decided that he should get an American education and sent him back from Indonesia to Hawaii, where he was admitted to a £7,000-a-year prep school, Punahau Academy, and lived with his maternal grandparents.
And while there, says Mr Obama, he was tortured by fellow pupils—who let out monkey hoots—and turned into a disenchanted teenage rebel, experimenting with cocaine and marijuana.
Even his grandparents were troubled by dark skin, he says in his book, recalling how once his grandmother complained about being pestered by a beggar.
“You know why she’s so scared?” he recalls his grandfather saying. “She told me the fella was black.”
Mr Obama says his soaring ‘dream’ of a better America grew out of his ‘hurt and pain’.
Friends, however, remember his time at school rather differently. He was a spoiled high-achiever, they recall, who seemed as fond of his grandparents as they were of him.
He affectionately signed a school photo of himself to them, using their pet names, Tut and Gramps.
The caption says: “Thanks . . . for all the good times.” He worked on the school’s literary magazine and wore a white suit, of the style popular with New York writers at the time.
One of his former classmates, Alan Lum, said: “Hawaii is such a melting pot that it didn’t occur to me when we were growing up that he might have problems about being one of the few African-Americans at the school. Us kids didn’t see colour. He was easy-going and well-liked.”
Lon Wysard, who also attended the academy, said the budding politician was in fact idolised for his keen sportsmanship.
“He was the star basketball player and always had a ball in his hand wherever he was,” Wysard recalled.
Mr Obama was later admitted to read politics and international relations at New York’s prestigious Columbia University where, his book claims, “no matter how many times the administration tried to paint them over, the walls remained scratched with blunt correspondence (about) niggers.”
But one of his classmates, Joe Zwicker, 45, now a lawyer in Boston, said yesterday: “That surprises me. Columbia was a pretty tolerant place. There were African American students in my classes and I never saw any evidence of racism at all.”
Family members and acquaintances believe that the real cloud over Mr Obama’s life has been the discovery that his father was far from the romantic figure that his mother tried to portray.
A family friend said: “He is haunted by his father’s failures. He grew up thinking of his father as a brilliant intellectual and pioneer of African independence only to learn that in Western terms he was basically a drunken lecher.”
This ugly truth, say friends, has made Mr Obama ruthlessly determined to use every weapon that he has to succeed, including the glossily edited version of his father’s story.
“At the end of the day Barack wants the story to help his political cause, so perhaps he couldn’t afford to be too honest,” said Ochieng.
Significantly, it was only four years after his father’s death that Mr Obama travelled to his father’s ancestral Kenyan village. There he learned the full story of his father’s life and met some of his relatives.
One of his half-sisters, Auma, is now a council worker in southern England, but some of his other relatives are still living in huts in the village, without plumbing or electricity, farming a few scrawny goats and chicken and growing fruit and maize.
They speak the tribal Luo language and depend on handouts from family members who have emigrated to the UK and the United States for their few luxuries, notably the transistor radios that they use to follow Mr Obama’s rocketing political fortunes.
He has positioned himself as a devout Christian (having found God, he says, after years as an atheist) and in a new book The Audacity Of Hope, timed to coincide with his campaign, he concentrates on his manifesto for ‘reclaiming the American dream’.
This tome contains one telling paragraph, in a section in which he fumbles to try to justify his abrupt leap into the national political arena: he is, he says, chronically ‘restless’.
“Someone once said that every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes, and I suppose that may explain my particular malady.”