Obama Keeping Distance from African Relatives

Image: Obama Keeping Distance from African Relatives Malik Obama, the older half-brother of President Barack Obama, holds an undated picture of Barack, left, himself, center, and an unidentified friend in his shop in Siaya, eastern Kenya.

Wednesday, 23 Apr 2014 09:16 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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The African family President Obama embraced during and after winning office in 2008 has gone largely ignored since, The New York Times reports.

"Barack is almost trying to leave behind the family that he so passionately engaged in those early years as he moves through the presidency," half-brother Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo told the Times.

While campaigning for president as an Illinois senator in 2008, Obama went out of his way to include relatives from his Kenyan father’s side in his campaign. When he won, a delegation of African relatives attended the 2009 inauguration and received VIP treatment from the history-making first black U.S. president.

In 2004, just after Obama won the Democratic primary victory for the U.S. Senate, there was a second publishing of his memoir, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." In it, he recounts growing up as a biracial child, the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya. The book – originally published in 1995 as Obama was preparing to launch his political career — details his journey to Africa, where he met his father’s side of the family. Obama forged relationships with several family members from his father’s side.

But since becoming president, there has been little contact between the president and the African relatives, according to the Times. Perhaps, the Times opines, Obama is keeping his distance because some of the relatives living in the United States have run into legal troubles, while a host of others have attempted to capitalize on the Obama name and family connection by writing books and starting foundations.

A younger half-brother and half-sister have each written books, and the half-sister’s former husband is writing a book with the working title of "Our Brother, Mr. President." Half-brother, Malik Obama, who was best man at the president’s wedding, runs the Barack H. Obama Foundation and has raised money for it from friends in Yemen and Libya, where he was supportive of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, according to the Times.

Complicating matters are two Obama relatives found to be living in the United States illegally. An aunt, Zeituni Onyango, the half-sister of the president’s late father, and whom the president referred to as "auntie," worked as a maid and nanny for the Obamas when their daughter Sasha was a newborn in 2001. Onyango entered the United States on a valid visa but stayed illegally after unsuccessfully seeking asylum, according to the Times.

Reporters located Onyango living in Boston public housing during the 2008 election. Obama aides said the president wasn’t aware his aunt was here illegally and returned $265 she gave to his campaign, the Times reports.

Onyango died at age 61 in Boston this month, but the president did not attend her funeral. Relatives said he sent a condolence letter and money to help pay for the funeral. Money was being raised to ship her body back to Kenya.

Obama’s uncle, Onyango Obama, has an outstanding deportation order, according to the Times, and has been living in Boston illegally for decades. The president stayed with his uncle for weeks in Cambridge before entering law school at Harvard. When arrested on drunk-driving charges in 2011, Onyango reportedly told police he would "call the White House."

"The president has not seen him in 20 years, has not spoken with him in 10," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told the Times.

Ndesandjo has "an Obama-branded cultural foundation," the Times reports, and has written an unflattering memoir of their late father "and explores a rocky relationship with the president."

The Christian Science Monitor reported last year that the family felt slighted when the Obamas bypassed visit Kenya on their trip to Africa.

"The fact that he has Kenyan roots and is not coming means a lot," said Chris Kirubi, a Kenyan entrepreneur who declined an invitation to meet Obama in neighboring Tanzania.

The Monitor reported that it’s likely the president did not want to get embroiled in Kenya's current political problems. The country’s president and his deputy are facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court at the Hague stemming from post-election violence in 2007 and 2008.

The White House declined to comment to the Times on the president’s relationship with his extended family.

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