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Barack Obama Sr.

Barack Obama Sr. Kenyan economist

Kenyan economist
Barack Obama Sr.
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Kenyan economist
A.K.A. Barack Hussein Obama, Sr.
Was Economist
From Kenya
Type Finance
Gender male
Birth 4 April 1935, Nyang'oma Kogelo
Death 24 November 1982, Nairobi (aged 47 years)
Mother: Habiba Akumu Obama
Father: Hussein Onyango Obama
Spouse: Ann DunhamRuth NdesandjoKezia Obama
Children: Barack ObamaMark Okoth Obama NdesandjoMalik ObamaDavid NdesandjoAbo ObamaBernard ObamaGeorge Hussein Onyango ObamaAuma ObamaMalik Abongo Obama
The details


Barack Hussein Obama Sr. (/ˈbærək huːˈseɪn oʊˈbɑːmə/; 18 June 1936 – 24 November 1982) was a Kenyan senior governmental economist and the father of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. He is a central figure of his son's memoir, Dreams from My Father (1995). Obama married in 1954 and had two children with his first wife, Kezia. He was selected for a special program to attend college in the United States, and studied at the University of Hawaii. There, Obama met Stanley Ann Dunham, whom he married in 1961, and with whom he had a son, Barack II. She divorced him three years later. The elder Obama later went to Harvard University for graduate school, where he earned an M.A. in economics, and returned to Kenya in 1964. He saw his son Barack once more, when the boy was about ten.
Later that year, Obama Sr. married Ruth Beatrice Baker, a Jewish-American woman whom he had met in Massachusetts. They had two sons together before separating in 1971 and divorcing in 1973. Obama first worked for an oil company, before beginning work as an economist with the Kenyan Ministry of Transport. He gained a promotion to senior economic analyst in the Ministry of Finance. He was among a cadre of young Kenyan men who had been educated in the West in a program supported by Tom Mboya. Obama Sr. had conflicts with Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta, which adversely affected his career. He was fired and blacklisted in Kenya, finding it nearly impossible to get a job. Obama Sr. was involved in three serious car accidents during his final years; he died as a result of the last one in 1982.

Early life

Barack Obama Sr. was born in 1936 in Rachuonyo District on the shores of Lake Victoria just outside Kendu Bay, British Kenya, at the time a colony and protectorate of the British Empire. He was raised in the village of Nyang'oma Kogelo, Siaya District, Nyanza Province. His family are members of the Luo ethnic group.

His father was Onyango (later Hussein) Obama (c. 1895–1979), and his mother was Habiba Akumu Nyanjango of Karabondi, Kenya, Onyango's second wife. They had two daughters and a son together, Barack Obama (Sr). After Akumu separated from Onyango and left the family in 1945, her three children were raised by Onyango's third wife, Sarah Ogwel of Kogelo.

As a young man, the senior Obama traveled widely, enlisting in the British colonial forces and visiting Europe, India, and Zanzibar. There, Obama converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam and took the name Hussein. He became a cook for missionaries and a local herbalist in Nairobi.

The Times of London, relying on statements by Obama's third wife, Sarah Onyango Obama, 87, reported that in 1949, after becoming more politically active, Obama was jailed by the British for two years for suspicion of supplying military information to the Kenyan independence movement, owing to "His job as a cook to a British army officer." According to Sarah, Obama was subjected to beatings and abuse that left him with physical scars and a loathing of the British. David Maraniss' 2012 biography of President Barack Obama states that his grandfather Obama did not participate in the insurrections; nor was he ever imprisoned by the British during the uprising. He continued to be trusted by white Kenyans.

When Obama (Sr.) was about six years old and attending a Christian missionary school, he converted from Islam to Anglicanism when strongly encouraged by the staff. He changed his name from "Baraka" to "Barack." Obama (Sr.) later became an atheist, believing that religion was mere superstition.

While still living near Kendu Bay, Obama (Sr.) attended Gendia Primary School. After his family moved to Siaya District, he transferred to Ng'iya Intermediate School. From 1950 to 1953, he studied at Maseno National School, an exclusive Anglican boarding school in Maseno. The head teacher, B.L. Bowers, described Obama in his records as "very keen, steady, trustworthy and friendly. Concentrates, reliable and out-going."

Marriages and family

In 1954 at age 18, Obama (Sr.) married Kezia Aoko in a tribal ceremony in Kenya. They had two children, Malik (a.k.a. Roy) and Auma, during the early years of their marriage.

Obama married two other women. In 1960 while studying at the University of Hawai'i on a special government-sponsored program, he met and dated Stanley Ann Dunham, an American woman. She became pregnant and they were married on the Hawaiian island of Maui on February 2, 1961, despite parental opposition from both families. Their son, future US president Barack Obama, was born in August 1961. They later separated and divorced on 20 March 1964, whereupon Ann Dunham was granted sole custody of the boy.

Obama (Sr.) went to Harvard University for a doctoral program in economics, but left the university after completing his master's degree. At Harvard he started dating Ruth Beatrice Baker, a Jewish-American woman. She went with him to Kenya in 1964. They married late that year and had two sons, Mark and David. The couple separated in 1971 and divorced.

In Kenya, Obama (Sr.) reconnected with his first wife Kezia. She had two sons after his return: Abo (b. 1968) and Bernard (b. 1970), believed to be his children. It was still culturally acceptable for successful men in Kenya to take multiple wives.

Barack Obama, in his memoir Dreams from My Father (1995), said that his father's family had questioned whether Abo and Bernard are Barack Sr.'s biological sons.

The senior Obama fathered his last son George in 1982 with Jael Otinyo. The boy was about six months old when Obama was killed in a car accident. He was reared by his mother, who later remarried; his stepfather cared for him as well.

College and graduate school

In 1959, the Kenyan Department of Education published Obama's monograph, entitled Otieno jarieko. Kitabu mar ariyo. 2: Yore mabeyo mag puro puothe. (English: Otieno, the wise man. Book 2: Wise ways of farming.)

Due to his accomplishments, in 1959 Obama received a scholarship in economics through a program organized by the nationalist leader Tom Mboya. The program offered education in the West to outstanding Kenyan students. Initial financial supporters of the program included Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Jackie Robinson, and Elizabeth Mooney Kirk, a literacy advocate who provided most of the financial support for Obama's early years in the United States. Kirk and her literacy associate Helen M. Roberts of Palo Alto raised the money necessary for Obama to travel to the US. Funds provided the next year by Senator John F. Kennedy's family paid off old debts of the project and subsidized student stipends, indirectly benefiting Obama and other members of the 1959 group of scholarship holders. When Obama left for the United States, he left behind his young wife, Kezia, and their baby son Malik. Kezia was pregnant, and their daughter Auma was born while her father was in Hawaii. At Obama's request, Helen Roberts committed to watching over and financially supporting the family that he had left behind, for as long as she remained in Nairobi.

University of Hawaii

In 1959, Obama enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu as the university's first African foreign student. He initially lived across the street from the university at the Charles H. Atherton branch of the YMCA at 1810 University Avenue; public records from 1961 indicate he later had a residence two miles southeast of the university at 625 11th Avenue in the Kaimuki neighborhood.

In 1960, Obama met Stanley Ann Dunham in a basic Russian language course at the University of Hawaii and they started dating. After becoming pregnant, Dunham dropped out of the University of Hawaii after the fall 1960 semester, while Obama continued his education. Obama married Dunham in Wailuku on the Hawaiian island of Maui on 2 February 1961. He eventually told Dunham about his previous marriage in Kenya, but said he was divorced—which she found out years later was not true.

Their son Barack Obama II, was born in Honolulu on 4 August 1961 at the former Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital (succeeded by the Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women and Children). His birth was announced in The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, with his parents' address listed as 6085 Kalanianaole Highway in the Kuliouou neighborhood of Honolulu, seven miles east of the university—the rented home of Dunham's parents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham. Soon after her son's birth, Dunham took the infant with her to Seattle, Washington, where she took classes at the University of Washington from September 1961 to June 1962.

Obama Sr. continued his education at the University of Hawaii and in 1961–1962 lived one mile east of the university in the St. Louis Heights neighborhood. He graduated from the University of Hawaii after three years with a B.A. in economics and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He left Hawaii in June 1962.

Harvard University

In September 1962, after a tour of mainland U.S. universities, Obama Sr. traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he began a graduate fellowship in economics at Harvard University. He rented an apartment in a rooming house near Central Square in Cambridge. Meanwhile, Dunham and their son returned to Honolulu in the latter half of 1962, and she resumed her undergraduate education in January 1963 in the spring semester at the University of Hawaii. In January 1964, Dunham filed for divorce in Honolulu; the divorce was not contested by Obama. In 1965, Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, a Javanese surveyor whom she had met at the East-West Center.

Obama was forced to leave his Ph.D. program at Harvard University in May 1964 (and received an M.A. in economics from Harvard in 1965). In June 1964, Obama met and began dating a 27-year-old Jewish American elementary school teacher named Ruth Beatrice Baker, the daughter of prosperous Lithuanian immigrants to the United States.

Return to Kenya

Third marriage

Obama returned to Kenya in 1964 after graduating from Harvard. Baker followed him, and they married 24 December 1964. They had two sons together, Mark Okoth Obama in 1965 and David Opiyo Obama in 1968. Baker and Obama separated in 1971, and divorced in 1973. Baker subsequently married a Tanzanian man named Ndesandjo and took his surname, as did her sons Mark and David. Mark said in 2009 that Obama had been abusive to him, his late brother David, and their mother.

Economics career

Obama first worked as an economist for an oil company in Kenya. In 1965, Obama published a paper entitled "Problems Facing Our Socialism" in the East Africa Journal, harshly criticizing the blueprint for national planning, "African Socialism and Its Applicability to Planning in Kenya", developed by President Tom Mboya's Ministry of Economic Planning and Development. Obama served as an economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Transport. Later he was promoted to senior economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Finance.

In 1970, Obama was in a serious automobile accident, and was hospitalized for nearly a year. In December 1971, he traveled to Hawai'i for a month. There he visited with his ex-wife Ann Dunham and American son Barack II, who was nearly 10. The visit was the last time the boy would see his father. During his trip, Obama took his son to his first jazz concert, a performance by the pianist Dave Brubeck.

His son recalled Obama giving him his first basketball:

"I only remember my father for one month my whole life, when I was 10. And it wasn't until much later in life that I realized, like, he gave me my first basketball and it was shortly thereafter that I became this basketball fanatic. And he took me to my first jazz concert and it was sort of shortly thereafter that I became really interested in jazz and music. So what it makes you realize how much of an impact [even if it's only a month] that they have on you. But I think probably the most important thing was his absence I think contributed to me really wanting to be a good dad, you know? Because I think not having him there made me say to myself 'you know what I want to make sure my girls feel like they've got somebody they can rely on.'"

Final years and death

Grave of Barack Obama Sr. in home of Sarah Onyango Obama in village Nyang'oma Kogelo in Siaya County, Kenya, 19 August 2016

According to Barack II's memoir, Obama's continuing conflict with Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta destroyed his career. He came under suspicion after Tom Mboya was assassinated in 1969, as he had been a protege of the ruler. Kenyatta fired Obama, who was blacklisted in Kenya and found it impossible to get work. By the time Obama visited his son in Hawaii in 1971, he had a bad leg from the 1970 accident.

Obama later lost both legs in a second serious automobile accident, and subsequently lost his job. His life deteriorated as he struggled with poverty and drinking. During his final decade, he never recovered his former standing. His friend Philip Ochieng, a journalist of the Kenya newspaper, Daily Nation, has described Obama's difficult personality and drinking problems. In 1982, Obama had a relationship with Jael Otinyo and with her fathered his last son, named George Obama. Six months after George's birth, Obama died in a car crash in Nairobi. He was interred in his native village of Nyang'oma Kogelo, Siaya District. His funeral was attended by ministers Robert Ouko, Peter Oloo-Aringo, and other prominent political figures.


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