*The Other Barack*

The author is Sally H. Jacobs and the subtitle is The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father.  But forget about “our Obama” and read this as a biography of colonialism, the 1960s, interracial relations, and most of all the East African intelligentsia.  In addition to being a life story, it’s an excellent treatment of those topics.  Here is one of the soggier excerpts:

As suddenly as it began, however, his ascent was over.  Six years after he returned from the United States, Obama had been let go from one promising job and was fired from another, his career abruptly dead-ended.  All three of his marriages had failed, and he was barely on speaking terms with any of his children.  Penniless and increasingly dependent on his beloved Johnnie Walker Black, he collapsed at night on the floor at a series of friends’ homes and lived for periods alone in a solitary hotel room.  It was a monumental fall.

…”He didn’t commit a crime.  He didn’t do anything wrong particularly.  He just didn’t finish the race.  As schoolboys, we were always taught that you must finish the race no matter what.  But he didn’t.  He just collapsed.”

Barack Obama Sr. spent two years in the Harvard economics Ph.d. program and had a very good knowledge of econometrics.  Edward Chamberlain, Robert Dorfman, Roger Noll, Sam Bowles, Lester Thurow, and John Dunlop make cameos in this part of the book.  Barack wanted to write his Ph.d. thesis on an econometric investigation on the staple theory of development, but after two years he lost his departmental funding and had to leave, eventually having to leave the U.S. as well.  Harvard was upset that he seemed to be married to two women at once and they looked to ease him out of the program; it’s an ugly story.

There are interesting bits on his time working at Shell, at the tourism bureau, his four months in traction following a major auto accident, his connection to domestic Kenyan political disputes, his role as a Kenyan urban planner, and how he would chat up women.  This book was very extensively researched.

Definitely recommended to anyone interested in East Africa.  Here is David Garrow’s review of the book.


Should programs bear some responsibility for the people they "ease out" of their programs?

Are you talking about Glenn Beck?

Seemed to be married to two women? I thought that was uncontested. Ah, for the days when polygamy was problematic!

If you read about Barrack Obama's family in Africa, they seemed to be insanely connected. Members of his family ended up marrying people in Korea, Europe, and the US. This seems really really unusual...

Why is this unusual? Not having read the book, I would think it would just be that members of his family are well-traveled. Is there something else about the marriages that would make it unusual?



Because they were in a country where the per-capita income was in the triple digits...

The basic answer is that they were part of two key tribal groups that came out of the independence movement on top. The Kikuyu, who eventually won this power struggle and the Lou which is what Obama hails from. The Lou culture highly values intellectual accomplishment, with an inordinate amount of Kenyan intellectuals, Doctors and Professors hailing from this particular tribe. In the sixties, Lou leaders focused their resources on educating their population with higher education at global universities for top students a key reward. So, many smart Lou's were sent to all corners of the world, and thus had opportunities to meet and marry many women of other nationalities. Polygamy among Lou's was rampant at the time. Acquiring a foreign wife would be a status signal in of itself.

Have you seen his birth certificate?

I think the most interesting revelation in Sally Jacobs' reporting is that Barack Obama Sr. was the prosecution's anchor witness in the murder trial of the hired Kikuyu gunman who assassinated his mentor Tom Mboya, who was Kenyatta's likely Luo successor and was the CIA's main man in Kenya. This goes unmentioned in Obama's account of his 5 weeks in Kenya in the late 1980s, although it was surely a topic of intense discussion with his father's family.

In general, the multiple linkages between both sides of the President's family and the CIA and other elements of the American empire abroad. For example, his mother worked at the American embassy in Jakarta soon after the CIA-assisted Indonesian coup of 1965 and his autobiography recounts what she heard there from CIA agents. She then worked for the CIA-affiliated Ford Foundation in Cold War frontline states like Indonesia and Pakistan. These connections have gone little remarked.

This is hardly to say that the President was, say, a CIA plant. It is merely to say that he emerged from an exotic but distinct milieu: the CIA-affiliated anti-Communist international left.

Tom Mboya, was in no way an Kenyatta potential Successor. As charismatic as he was, he stood no chance of becoming President of Kenya in that period. The Western dominated business elite, and the Kamba dominated military gave no room for Lou's to force the issue.

But more over, the idea that during Barack's visit to Kenya this young man, with little grasp of the politics and dynamics around the Mboya assassination, would find his family engaging him on such issues absurd. Lou elders are loth to discuss such things to a junior man.

Steve, the strength of your intellect is outpacing the size of the dots your trying to connect.

The President's one job with a for-profit company, as a copy editor at the newsletter firm Business International in the 1980s, is another example of the Obama family's CIA connections. The head of Business International had earlier admitted to the New York Times that his firm had served as a front for CIA agents needing cover as journalists.

The CIA supported a lot of the post-colonial international left during the Cold War to outbid the Soviets for their allegiances. Although this doesn't fit anybody's partisan prejudices, that seems to be part of the rather unusual milieu from which the President emerged.

"Harvard was upset that he seemed to be married to two women at once and they looked to ease him out of the program; it’s an ugly story."

Why exactly is that an "ugly story"? Serial marriage and family abandonment are an "ugly story", actually a "very ugly story". Obama Sr. appears to have plaid the marriage/family/abandonment game at least 4 times. He thoroughly deserved what he got.

Like it or not, a society sustains itself by upholding moral values and punishing (severely) those who transgress against them. Harvard deserves credit for what it did. Back then we didn't have a 70-80 black illegitimacy rate. Now we do. The forcible removal of the likes of Obama Sr. is (was) very small price to pay for a system that gives (gave) minority children two-parent families.

Make that

"Obama Sr. appears to have played the marriage/family/abandonment game at least 4 times"

“Obama Sr. appears to have played the marriage/family/abandonment game at least 4 times"

No, no, for David Garrow and Prof. Cowen, it's all the white man's fault.

Are you an adult y81

Obama senior was a classic alcoholic. My father fired him as a no show after giving him a contract as a consultant a development consultant. I recall my Father very early on, saying that Barack could "go all the way to the top if he has his fathers Brains". Brilliant one week, Alcoholic stupor the following. Barack's blessing is to have the combination of his father's intellect, and his mothers temperament.

Comments for this post are closed