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“Obama’s Kenyan Relatives”

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I was on vacation when Nicholas Kristof wrote “Obama’s Kenyan Roots” for his Sunday New York Times column, but I recommend it to you as well as the associated post at Kristof’s blog. I will try and track him down for an interview, though he’s never been on the program before.

Here’s an excerpt of Kristof’s column, in which he summarizes Senator Obama’s African ties:

Mr. Obama’s late grandfather is said to have been the first person in the area to wear Western clothes rather than just a loincloth. For a time he converted to Christianity and adopted the family name Johnson.

Later he converted to Islam, taking four wives. Senator Obama’s father, who apparently converted to Catholicism while attending a Catholic school, was also polygamous in keeping with local custom, taking an informal Kenyan wife who preceded Mr. Obama’s mother but remained a consort, according to accounts by local people and the senator himself.

The father, also named Barack Hussein Obama, was as much of a pathbreaker as his son. He went from herding goats in Kogelo to studying in Hawaii and at Harvard, even if his career as an economist was frustrated in part by ethnic rivalries.

Senator Obama barely knew his father and does not know his Kenyan relatives well. He has visited Kenya three times, most recently very briefly in 2006.

The complexity of Obama’s family in Africa is laid out in his book Dreams From My Father, but Kristof’s column is an excellent starting point to figuring it out. Obama’s father’s story is much more complicated than the brief statement of it here, and it includes two more women with whom he lived and fathered children after he returned to Kenya, which provides the dizzying array of half-siblings and cousins that populate the last third of Obama’s first book, some of which appear in the Kristof column.


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