Book Investigates Turbulent Life of US President's Kenyan Father
A new book published in the United States investigates the turbulent life of the U.S. president's Kenyan father, also named Barack Obama. American author Sally Jacobs says even though the father and son spent very little time together, she found many similarities between them.
The book is called The Other Barack.
The subtitle is The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama's Father. Barack Obama Sr. saw very little of his son after his birth in the U.S. Pacific state of Hawaii in 1961.
The father left Hawaii in 1962 to attend Harvard University in the northeastern state of Massachusetts, and then went back to Kenya in 1964.
The elder Obama returned to Hawaii for a month-long visit in 1971, the last time he would see the young boy who would become the first African-American president.
The author of the book, Sally Jacobs, says she still sees much of what she found out about the father in the son. "Part of it is just raw DNA. Both of them are extremely intelligent. Whatever your politics, I think it is hard to argue that about our current president. Both of them were extremely involved in the politics of their day," Jacobs said.
She says they also both suffered from having an absent parent.
An economics paper the elder Barack Obama wrote in 1965 for the East Africa Journal has been highly praised by Africa scholars since it stressed newly independent countries should focus more on how resources would benefit society rather than the amount of profits these generated.
His views were critical of the policies of Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta and incorporated ideas of Vice-President Oginga Odinga. His maneuverings remind Jacobs of the approach she says the U.S president often takes.
"He is trying to pull together these sort of polarized aspects of Kenyan politics of the time in 1965 between Oginga Odinga on the left and Jomo Kenyatta on the right. And Obama Sr. was really trying to bring together their rather extreme views. He was not very successful but that was how he cast himself in much the same way that our current president is casting himself as a mediator on the two different ends of our conversations about economics," Jacobs said.
Revelations in the book include how the elder Obama's immigration files in the United States include a memo saying that putting Barack Obama up for adoption was briefly considered as well as how Harvard University forced him out and back to Kenya, despite his good grades.
"He had passed all of his exams in economics. All he had left was to write his dissertation. He had even started that. He had a title and even an idea. Harvard became aware that he had possibly two wives. They were concerned he had a third and they did not like it. He also had financial troubles and so they basically forced him to leave. They had never really told him why, just that they did not have enough money for him. It was a critical moment for Obama Sr. I think it really broke his heart that he never got that PhD," Jacobs said.
Back in Kenya, Obama senior continued to have more children. It is believed he had a total of eight, four of whom wrote a book about him, including President Obama's Dreams from My Father, published in 1995.
The elder Obama got prominent jobs in post-independent Kenya, but always wanted a higher position. The book describes him as brilliant at work but erratic in and especially out of the office, where he was a womanizer and heavy drinker, who had a series of serious car crashes.
Jacobs says a turning point in his life was the 1969 assassination of economic planning minister Tom Mboya, one of his mentors and like him a member of the Luo tribe.
"After the assassination of Tom Mboya, Luos certainly had to struggle. The Kikuyus, as was Jomo Kenyatta, certainly were in positions of control. It became very difficult for Luos. Many were unable to get jobs, those who were in reasonable jobs were unable to rise. Now Obama would often say that many of his troubles related to that. I do not really think that is true. I was able to find documents of his employment history that showed that he had many other problems, personal behaviors, a tendency to lie, to drink on the job, that is really what created his difficulty," Jacobs said.
He died in a car crash in 1982, never feeling he had lived up to his potential and never knowing one of his sons would become president of the United States.