A few days ago I received a call from a man I recently met named George. He was a bit flustered, and soon informed me that his young son was sick with a chest condition. He pleaded with me to send him $1,000 to cover the medical bills. Since George was at the hospital I asked him to let me speak to a nurse, and she confirmed that George’s son was indeed ill. So I agreed to send George the money through Western Union. He was profusely grateful. But before I hung up I asked George, “Why are you coming to me?” He said, “I have no one else to ask.” Then he said something that astounded me, “Dinesh, you are like a brother to me.”
Actually, George has a real life brother who just happens to be the president of the United States. (George Obama is the youngest of eight children sired by Barack Obama Sr.) George’s brother is a multimillionaire and the most powerful man in the world. Moreover, George’s brother has framed his re-election campaign around the “fair share” theme that we owe obligations to those who are less fortunate.
One of Obama’s favorite phrases comes right out of the Bible: “We are our brother’s keeper.” Yet he has not contributed a penny to help his own brother. And evidently George does not believe, even in times of emergency, that he can turn to his brother in the White House for help.
So much for spreading the wealth around.
Obama’s refusal to help George is especially surprising because George doesn’t just live in American-style poverty but rather in Third World poverty. He lives in a shanty in the Huruma slum in Nairobi. He gets by on a few dollars a month. Obama also has an aunt named Hawa Auma, his father’s sister, who ekes out a living selling coal on the streets of a small village in Kenya. She says she would like to have her teeth fixed, but she cannot afford it. Obama hasn’t offered to help her either.
What’s going on here? Why is President Obama so hesitant to help family members in need?
A couple of years ago, George teamed up with a British journalist Damien Lewis and the two of them published George’s story in a book called "Homeland." Yet according to Lewis, shortly before the book’s publication in America, the publisher Simon & Schuster decided to shred the entire print run, more than 20,000 copies. Lewis tried unsuccessfully to get an explanation from Simon & Schuster but to no avail. He now suspects that the White House convinced Simon & Schuster that George’s story might prove embarrassing to the president.
In 2010, George also applied for a visa to come to the United States and was refused. While George confesses that in his younger years he was a delinquent, he has never been convicted of any crime. Moreover, he has a very good reason to visit the United States: his mother Jael Otieno lives in Atlanta. So why would the U. S. embassy in Nairobi refuse a tourist visa to the brother of the president who just wants to spend time with his mother?
In the past few days, an article has been circulating on the web that depicts George as a social undesirable. First published in the London Daily Mail, the article portrays George as a habitual drunk and philanderer. I spent a day with George this past February while interviewing him for my documentary film 2016: Obama’s America. I can attest that George is not an innocent. If he had been, he would not have survived life in the Huruma slum. Yes, George is street smart and cunning and I did smell alcohol on his breath.
But so what? George may be a drinker and a skirt-chaser but, as becomes clear from his book, he is also a survivor. He has overcome his past as a gang-member and petty thief and now works as the organizer of a slum soccer league. He is trying to uplift himself, and he is trying to help slum kids aspire to a better life. On balance, Lewis assures me, “George is not a bad guy. He is on the side of the angels.”
But even if Lewis is wrong, and George exhibits some harmful cultural pathologies, the liberal argument—one that Obama himself makes in his book "The Audacity of Hope" — is that the cultural pathologies of the poor are themselves the product of social disadvantage.
Barack Obama Jr. first met George in 1987, when George was five years old. He met George again in 2006 when he visited Kenya as a U.S. Senator from Illinois; George was then in his early twenties. Had Obama helped George along the way, perhaps this young man would not have ended up dirt-poor and living such a degraded life.
So what’s the real story here? Where’s George Obama’s “fair share”? George’s tragic situation exposes President Obama as a hypocrite. Here is a man who demands that others pay higher taxes to help the poor—even poor people who are not related to them—while Obama himself refuses to help a close relative like George.
Yet I believe there is a deeper explanation that goes beyond hypocrisy for why Obama wants nothing to do with George. After all, it would cost Obama so little to raise George out of poverty, and yet he won’t do it. This isn’t mere negligence; it suggests an active animus. The reason for that animus emerges in George’s book and also in my interview with George in the film 2016. In that interview, George rejects the anti-colonial philosophy that was espoused by Barack Obama Sr. This is the “dream from my father” that President Obama celebrates in his own autobiography.
From the record of their lives and writings, it’s clear that Barack Obama Sr. and Barack Obama Jr. both share the anti-colonial view that blames Western colonial exploitation for the poverty and suffering of the Third World. Yet George doesn’t buy it. He observes that at the time of its independence in the early 1960s “Kenya was on an economic par with Malaysia or Singapore. Look where we are now, and where they are. They’re practically developed and industrialized, while Kenya is still a basket case.” George believes that poor countries should take responsibility for their own situation. “What’s our excuse for failure? We don’t have one. We’ve only got ourselves to blame.”
Incredible though it seems, George Obama is, within the context of his own society, a conservative. He doesn’t worship at the shrine of Barack Obama Sr. and he espouses an ideology diametrically opposed to that of his father and his famous brother. George has experienced first-hand the empty rhetoric of the two Baracks, and he rejects it based on his actual experience of Third World poverty.
No wonder President Obama despises George, doesn’t want him around, doesn’t care to hear George’s views circulated in America, and won’t lift a finger to help him even when George’s son is in the hospital.
So that’s why George Obama felt he had to call me. He had no one else to call. He reached out to me in his time of need because he felt he couldn’t call on his real life sibling living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
That’s how I got to be, if only metaphorically and for a short time, George Obama’s “brother.”