Obama’s half-brother writes a ‘genuine’ book about their father’s life and untimely death
Whether or not there is anything behind the family’s claims, though, the fact that Obama’s Kenyan family is now casting him as a martyr has political resonance within Kenya. That country is having its own presidential election in 2012. The country’s most powerful Luo officeholder, Raila Odinga—the son of a politician imprisoned by Jomo Kenyatta—is likely to face off against Kenyatta’s own son, Uhuru, provided the latter candidate is able to get out from under an International Criminal Court indictment related to ethnic violence that broke out after Kenya’s last election.
(Incidentally, I met Odinga and Kenyatta together in 2004, when they sat next to each other for the keynote Democratic Convention speech delivered by the bright young son of Odinga’s old friend Barack Obama. Kenyan politics is a small world.)
As for the book’s effect on American politics, Malik says he is aware that his book is likely to be scrutinized for clues by that obsessive subset of conservatives who view the president’s African parentage as a kind of skeleton key that unlocks his secret agenda. For instance, Newt Gingrich, this week’s Republican front-runner, once suggested that the president subscribes to a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview that lies “outside our comprehension.” But he told me he was inspired to redeem his father’s reputation after reading two other recent books—The Other Barack by Sally Jacobs, and The Obamas by Peter Firstbrook—which he complains misportray Obama Sr. as a dissolute failure. (Jacobs, a Boston Globe reporter, wrote in her book that he was known around Nairobi as “Mr. Double-Double” for his habit of ordering two big whiskies at a time, and claimed that Malik and other Obamas tried to thwart her project, circulating emails alleging she was a Republican agent.)
“It’s really unauthorized, so this one is genuine, and it’s from me,” Malik said, adding, “At least they will now have the alternative to the gutter press.”
Politically, Malik himself leans toward pan-Africanism. His book references Malcolm X and spells the name of his continent: “Afrika.” Educated at prestigious private schools and the University of Nairboi, Malik is portrayed in Dreams From My Father as a convivial drinker who resembled the president's father in every way.
But he has since settled down. He owns an electronics store in Kisumu and heads a foundation named for his father which, among other charitable works, has rebuilt a mosque in the Obamas’ ancestral area. Jacobs portrayed Malik’s efforts with the mosque as matter of internal family dissension, with some members concerned that “such a glaring symbol of the family’s Muslim faith [would] negatively impact the Obama presidency.”
Malik told me that he wanted to emphasize that the White House has not endorsed either the book or the work of his foundation.
“They’re hands-off,” he said. “They’re not involved in what I’m doing. He’s doing his thing, he’s the president of United States. I am Malik Obama, doing this thing. We’re just brothers—that’s how it is.”
Andrew Rice is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and the author of The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda.