Sally H. Jacobs, The Other Barack (New York: Public Affairs Books, 2011) 300 Pages
A book Review Plus by Ozodi Osuji
Before I embark on this unusual sort of book review, let me take this opportunity to thank Sally H. Jacobs, a reporter for the Boston Globe, for writing this excellent book. She has done us a world of good. Sally, thank you. I particularly thank you for not engaging in analysis in your book; you, as a trained reporter, did your job well: you provided a straight-up report on the character called Barack Hussein Obama Senior; you did not inject your opinions into your reportage (at least, I did not sense any bias on your part). Thanks for a job well done
I will try to understand the other Barack, and in doing so hopefully shed light on those who, like him, are brilliant but hopelessly neurotic.
I am an African and can honestly say that many of the Africans I see are as confused as the other Barack. Let us see if we can understand these bright but royally messed up folk and help them help themselves.
I will first summarize the book and then launch into an effort to understand what made the other Barack who he was. Like all analysis, my analysis is based on whatever tools I had already accepted as useful in understanding people’s psyches. As we all know, there is no such thing as an objective psychological tool (methodological approach to people). All psychological conclusions are subjective, not objective. I only hope that despite the subjectivity of my conclusions I threw some light on the complicated but flawed character called the other Barack.
Understanding the other Barack perhaps helps us understand the Barack that we all know makes us interested in him, the President of the United States.
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK
Barack Hussein Obama Senior was born in 1936 of Luo heritage in a village, Kanyadhiang, close to Lake Victoria in Kenya. The Luo are Nilotic folk (people of River Nile, I guess) who migrated from what is now called Sudan southwards in the fifteenth century. They settled at many places in Uganda and finally in Kenya. Traditionally, they were cattle herders but they quickly learned some agricultural methods from their Bantu neighbors and became both cattle herders and farmers.
Many generations of what is now called the Obamas lived in the Lake Victoria region until the British came along. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Europeans made a mad dash to colonize Africa; it was during this scramble for Africa that the paths of the Obamas and Europeans crossed. In 1896 the British built the Uganda Railway, a 582 mile line from the coast (Mombasa) to Lake Victoria; this opened up interior Kenya to white men and exposed rural Luo to the ways of the white man.
Onyango was born in 1895. Like the Africans of his time he was exposed to Christian missionaries and, apparently, had some form of elementary schooling. During the First World War (1914-1918) he began working for white men as a cook. He performed this sort of work for the balance of his working life.
Like most Africans of his era he had one foot in the white man’s world and another in his village. He kept his growing family in his village while following the white man around (during the Second World War he even followed him to Asia and Europe as a domestic servant for white military officers). After the Second World War Onyango settled at Nairobi and continued serving his white masters. He divided his time between Nairobi and his village, two hundred plus miles away. His several wives and their children were in the village and he lived in Nairobi and visited them occasionally.
Even though he was exposed to Christians, Onyango converted to Islam. Apparently, he was detached from his wife and children and beat them up mercilessly. He was feared instead of loved by his family members. His children particularly feared his presence and did their best to avoid him. Nevertheless, he paid his children’s elementary school fees (doing so was apparently the only way he knew how to show his love for them).
As in many polygamous families there were many wives and children but we are concerned with his son whom he gave a Muslin name, Barack Hussein Obama (hereafter called the other Barack or Obama Senior or Obama 1).
The other Barack was mercilessly whipped by his father, Onyango. The father would insist that he do his arithmetic and if he made mistakes flogged him. At age eight, he and his sister had had enough and ran away from home and walked in the African jungle several miles on foot in search of their mother. Earlier on, tired of abuse from her husband their mother had left their abusive father. They located their mother and were with her when Onyango heard about what they did and came to take them back to his village. In Luo culture when there is divorce the children automatically stayed with the father so the man had them and continued his child abuse unabated.
The other Barack, apparently, was very good at his elementary school and was, whenever he applied himself, at the top of his class. Upon completing elementary school run by Seventh Day Adventists and taking the required common entrance examination to attend secondary school, the other Barack was admitted to a boarding school, Maseno School, an elite secondary school founded by the Anglican Church Missionary Society in 1906.
In secondary school, when he applied himself, he was first in his class but for some reasons he seldom applied himself and overall was a mediocre student. His father often punished him for doing poorly at his studies.
In today’s psychological categories, the other Barack would be called an opposition-defiant child (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association has a nosological category for children called Opposition Defiant Disorder, ODD). He resented authority figures telling him what to do. He opposed many aspects of the authoritarian administration of the school he attended. After four years at that school the Principal of the school had had enough of his oppositionality and expelled him. Thus, he did not complete the six years required to take the Cambridge school leaving certificate.
His father was irate at his sixteen year old son for being expelled from school and beat him mercilessly. He ran away and went to Nairobi and lived with friends (and occasionally visited the “Old man”).
Apparently, he learned how to type and was actually a whiz at it. He obtained clerk-typist jobs and worked in many capacities as a clerk typist. In the main time he took the Cambridge school leaving certificate examination and did not do quite well: he had division three.
The other Barack was considered excellent at doing what he did, typing and clerking for Indian merchants and white folks. Eventually he landed a job with an American outfit providing adult literacy schooling to Kenyan adults. He worked as a clerk typist and became the personal assistant to the white lady from Texas running the outfit, Miss Mooney. Miss Mooney liked him a whole lot and his services became indispensable to her. He and some other Luo folks translated the books that the literacy outfit employed in teaching English into Luo language for his fellow Luo.
By this time the other Barack’s school mates at Maseno had graduated and some of them had been admitted to the local University (Makerere University at Kampala, Uganda) and some even went overseas to further their studies. Since the other Barack considered himself smarter than most boys in his old school he felt humiliated and began his efforts to further his studies. His division three pass in the school leaving certificate was not going to allow any British university to admit him so he looked elsewhere.
His fellow Luo, Tom Mboya was at this time a well-known trade union activist organizing unions and strikes. The other Barack befriended him. Mboya organized what he called airlift of bright Kenyan school leavers to attend universities in America. Barack applied to be airlifted but was not accepted and thus did not come to America on scholarship. His employer, Miss Mooney, apparently encouraged him to apply to American universities and he was eventually admitted by San Francisco state University and University of Hawaii.
How do you pay the school fees? Miss Mooney, her family back in the USA and friends managed to club together the required one year fees and paid the University of Hawaii and Barack was off to America in the fall of 1959. Thus, his sojourn in God’s own country began.
At the University of Hawaii, the other Barack fell in with other foreign students and regaled the local people with his knowledge of African affairs. He was an economics major and in three years graduated with a grade point average of 3.6 (that is, he was B+ student, an above average student but certainly not gifted, as he presented himself as).
Barack was a ladies man. Apparently, women loved him. He had regular sexual affairs with a chain of women in his native Kenya and as a matter of fact married a local girl called Kezia and had two children with her before he left for America. Barely a year in America he hooked up with a 17 year old coed American girl from Seattle, Washington called Stanley Ann Durham. The parents were opposed to the association but the two eloped and got married and in short order she became pregnant.
Strictly speaking, he had committed bigamy but he was a Luo where polygamy was permitted so he did no see himself as such. Stanley Ann apparently did not live with him throughout her pregnancy nor did he really pay attention to her and the child that was born on August 4, 1961, a child that they called Barack Hussein Obama junior, the now President of the United States.
Barack senior, like most of his African contemporaries, had done his job: got a woman pregnant; raising his child was not part of his job description. In sub-Saharan Africa women raise children, not men. Thus, Ann, as she was now called, managed to raise her child alone. Feeling abandoned, Ann got divorce and moved on with her life. In 1968 she remarried an Indonesian foreign student and took Barack Junior with her to live in Indonesia. She had a daughter for her new husband. Barack returned to Hawaii in 1971 and lived with his grandparents and attended a private school. The Mom soon left Indonesia and returned to Hawaii where she pursued her interest in anthropology. She later obtained a doctorate degree in anthropology.
After his undergraduate education, the other Barack got admitted to Harvard University. He was even given tuition scholarship. Thus, in 1962 he headed to Boston, Massachusetts, and began graduate schooling. He grinded out the mathematics required for doing econometrics and two years later passed his master’s examination and was told to continue with the doctorate program. This required doing doctoral research and writing a dissertation.
Apparently, the Immigration and Naturalization Service that keeps an eye on foreign students had kept a thick file on the doings of the other Barack. Apparently, they did not like his screwing around with several white women in the Boston area (one of those white women, Ruth, followed him to Kenya). Thus, when Barack applied for visa extension to stay in America and do his doctoral work his request was denied and he was given only thirty days to pack up and leave. (This is shabby treatment, wouldn’t you say so? Do I smell the fowl odor of racism? Would a European student be deported for messing around with white girls?)
Barack felt humiliated by the summarily manner in which he was essentially deported and actually never overcame that degradation. What racism does to black folks psyche cannot begin to be documented. (As an editorial aside, I must observe that white America may not know it, every time it humiliates black men it has added to forces that would bring its empire down. Folks do not forget been treated as if they have no worth. Human beings are primarily motivated to seem like they have worth and if you treat them as if they are nothing they seldom forgive you. Unless black folks choose to forgive white racism by and by they would seize on any opportunity that offers itself to work against the house of racism, the house of evil. Evil is any behavior that does not aim at loving people but excluding them.)
The other Barack, feeling degraded by white America, left America for Nairobi, Kenya. A few weeks in Nairobi he got a job with Shell/BP as an economic analyst.
Barack Senior had picked up the bad habit of drinking and smoking and at this time had become a certified alcoholic (did racism contribute to his alcoholism, after all being humiliated essentially transformed American Indians to alcoholics). Anyway, the man lived to drink. His real job in life was to drink whisky. Nevertheless, he managed to keep his first job for over two years.
In the meantime Ruth from Boston came to live with him in Nairobi. She was his third wife. They had two children. (The two children by Kezia lived with the family; indeed, a host of Barack’s extended family members also came to live with them; the house was a veritable zoo!)
At this time the drinking got out of control and the wife abuse began. Ruth ran back to Boston and her parents were ashamed of her mixed children and hid them from their neighbors. (Ruth understood and forgave her racist parents. When my wife’s father, an orthopedic surgeon, pulled that shit and housed my children at a hotel instead of have them stay with him in his house to avoid neighbors anger I stopped all dealings with him and since then he is history. You do not forgive racism; you stamp it out.)
The other Barack managed to put together the funds to come to America and try to retrieve his estranged wife. I say managed to put the money together for at this time he had left Shell for a job with the Kenyan government (Central Bank) and lasted all of nine months before he was fired. Thus, he was unemployed when he came to Boston to get back his family.
Upon return to Nairobi he managed to obtain another job, this time with Kenya Tourism. All agreed that he knew his job and did it excellently. The trouble was that he was almost always drunk, even on the job. He drank in the office and after work hopped from one bar to another and seldom got home before 10 PM, drunk out of his mind.
(Why didn’t someone get this man the help he was crying out for? Where were the so-called African elders when they were needed! The man needed to have been clamped into an alcohol treatment program. He reminds me of Michael Jackson; that confused man also needed to have had his black ass shipped to a drug treatment program. Why is it that black folks always abandon their people, anyway? What is the matter with black folk? When would they start caring for one another instead of only engage in empty talk of how they are one people?)
As a result of his drunkenness, on numerous occasions he got into car accidents; both his legs were damaged and he was by now walking with a cane (at age 34!). Yet, the man kept downing his whisky, “Double-Double” (that was what his fellow miserable drinking pals called him).
Having had enough beating, finally, Ruth summed enough courage to ask him to move out of their spacious house and obtained a restraining order on him. The neighbors also had enough of his yelling at her in the middle of the night and sighed relief when he was marched out of his house. He left their spacious house and moved into an apartment.
At this time he was unemployed, again. He called himself a consultant (in America, a consultant is an unemployed white professional).
With all the time in his hands, he decided to go visit his son in Hawaii and persuade Stanley Ann to come to Kenya and live with him. Thus, in 1971 he came to Honolulu and stayed with Ann and her parents for a month (midway they had enough of his drinking and yelling and moved him into a rental room down the street). This was the only time he actually saw his son, Barrack Junior. Well. Ann rightly refused to go with him to Kenya and he returned alone. At this point he was a defeated man, a living dead man!
A little while later, friends who appreciated his talents disregarded his alcohol problem and managed to give him a job with the government, a job that they planned carefully. Realizing his problem getting along with people and his drinking problem they essentially designed a technical job for him, a job that he did not have to interact with the public but crunched data for the team planning transportation matters for Kenya. He did the job well and passed probation. Gradually, they increased his tasks and allowed him to relate to people. He was even allowed to travel and represent the government overseas.
In his travels, the other Barack would impersonate who he is not such as introduce himself as Dr. Obama even though he does not have a doctorate degree and introduce himself as the general manager of the government agency he was working at. Folks learned of what he was doing and recognized that he was a man who felt inferior and was trying to seem superior and empty titles gave him that false sense of superiority so they tolerated his quirk and he continued it (Africans tend to tolerate madness too much; In Nigeria Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe who had a master’s degree in political science from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, called himself Dr. Azikiwe and folks tolerated that impersonation).