Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Barack Obama And Kenya - Is He A Closet Muslim?

Barack Obama And Kenya - Is He A Closet Muslim?

By Arjen Koopman

Although he never lived in Africa, Senator Barack Obama - fully in the race for the American presidency - is half Kenyan by descent. He has a Kenyan father and an American mother. Rumors say Obama still is a Muslim. What are the facts?

Barack Obama's Parents

Obama's father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., was born in a poor town in Kenya's western Nyanza province as the son of a cook in British service. It was the kind of small village where chicken roam freely and children in rags wander around the streets. The family was from the Luo tribe. The Senator's father "grew up herding goats and went to school in a tin-roof shack", as the Senator himself wrote in his book "Dreams of my Father" (1995, reissued 2004).

But the father was a smart and hard-working young man, and when John F. Kennedy launched a program to offer American scholarships to promising Kenyan students, the father grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He was able to enter the University of Hawaii that way. There he met and married Senator Obama's mother, Ann Dunham who was a fellow student at the same university. She was a full-blooded American from Kansas, coming from a blue-collar family.

Senator Obama was born there in 1961. However, the marriage only lasted until 1965. The father went on to study at Harvard, and after that returned to Kenya to work for oil companies. He went on to become an economist in the government of Jomo Kenyatta, the first Kenyan president after independence in 1963. He died in a car accident in 1982.

The mother remarried an Indonesian oil manager, Lolo Soetoro, and together with Barack Obama (who was then 5 years old) the couple moved to Jakarta in Indonesia. When Obama was ten, he returned to his grandparents in Hawaii because of the better opportunities for education there. His father came to visit him there. It would be the last time he saw him. Eventually, after Occidental College and Columbia University, Obama would enter Harvard University just like his father did.

Two Visits To Kenya

Before enrolling in Harvard, Obama visited his relatives in Kenya for the first time. His second visit in 2006, the latest to date, was an official one. Joined by his wife Michelle and his two daughters, he was received by US Ambassador Michael Rannesberger at the airport of Kenya's capital Nairobi. From there, a tour went through the city with thousands of Kenyans - proud that somebody 'from them' made it to the US Senate - cheering along the streets. A real Obama mania swept the country.

Obama also visited his 85-year old grandmother in her little village of Nyangoma-Kogelo. She cooked a traditional ugali meal for him. She didn't buy a new dress for the occasion, saying that Obama would hug her anyway, as he had done before. She doesn't speak English, so they talked through an interpreter.

Obama A Muslim?

Especially on the internet, the rumor still goes that Obama is a Muslim. That seems to be without basis in fact. Obama's grandfather converted from Christianity to Islam as a young man and added the Arab-style 'Hussein' to his name. The Senator inherited that middle name from his grandfather and father: the Senator's full name is Barack Hussein Obama like his father. Also 'Barack' has an Islamic background, meaning "blessed" in African-Arabic (East-African languages have a lot of Arab words .

But Obama's father had already abandoned Islam before he met Ann Dunham in Hawaii, becoming a skeptic, atheist person at a young age like Obama's mother. Obama's stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, was nominally a Muslim but considered religion as of little importance. The Senator himself was also leaning towards skepticism until he heard a sermon delivered in . He became a Christian and in 1988 joined Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

But political opponents keep circulating rumors about Obama being a closet Muslim. Even the Hillary Clinton camp fed into this by circulating a photo from Obama's Kenyan visit in 2006, with Obama wearing a traditional Somali (Muslim) costume. However, this seems to have been nothing more than Obama showing respect to his hosts and trying on the clothes that he received from them as a gift.

"In no other country on earth, is my story even possible"

During his keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004, Obama drew comparisons between his background and his vision of an America with equal opportunities for all. "In no other country on earth, is my story even possible", he said, pointing to the fact he made it to the US Senate as the son of a poor black immigrant.

There's an irony in that. In Kenya, the Kikuy tribe dominates both politics and the economy. They keep out the other tribes through favoritism and even corruption. For a (half)-Luo like Obama, it would be extremely hard to become the President of Kenya. Indeed, the election violence in Kenya of December-January 2008 precisely has this background. There's evidence that sitting President Kibaki, a Kikuyu (as well as virtually his entire administration), stole the elections of his Luo opponent Raila Odinga. This sparked the riots, as the Luo as well as other smaller tribes saw this as again a signal that the Kikuyu will conspire to keep any Luo out of office.

So Kenyans are now telling each other the joke that a Luo will sooner become the President of the United States than the President of Kenya.

Arjen Koopman is an Amsterdam-based journalist, and editor of the independent travel and country portal to Kenya. More about Barack Obama's Kenyan background is at An article about the Luo tribe, from which Obama's father came, is at - Copyright: You may freely republish this article provided the text, the author name, the active links and this notice remain intact.

Article Source:



Post a Comment