by Toby Harnden Daily Mail
A new biography of Barack Obama has established that his grandfather was not, as is related in the President’s own memoir, detained by the British in Kenya and found that claims that he was tortured were a fabrication.
Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss catalogues dozens of instances in which Obama deviated significantly from the truth in his book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. The 641-page book punctures the carefully-crafted narrative of Obama’s life.
One of the enduring myths of Obama’s ancestry is that his paternal grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama, who served as a cook in the British Army, was imprisoned in 1949 by the British for helping the anti-colonial Mau Mau rebels and held for several months.
Obama’s step-grandmother Sarah, Onyango wife, who is still living, is quoted in the future President’s memoir, as saying: ‘One day, the white man’s askaris came to take Onyango away, and he was placed in a detention camp.
‘But he had been in the camp for over six months, and when he returned to Alego he was very thin and dirty. He had difficulty walking, and his head was full of lice. He was so ashamed, he refused to enter his house or tell us what happened.’
In a 2008 interview, Sarah Obama claimed that he was ‘whipped every morning and evening’ by the British. ‘They would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metal rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together. He was lucky to survive. Some of his fellow inmates were mutilated with castration pliers and beaten to death with clubs.’
But Maraniss, who researched Obama’s life in Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii and the mainland United States, found that there were ‘no remaining records of any detention, imprisonment, or trial of Hussein Onyango Obama’. He interviewed five people who knew Obama’s grandfather, who died in 1979, who ‘doubted the story or were certain it did not happen’.
This undermines the received wisdom that Obama’s grandfather was a victim of oppression, an assumption that has in turn fuelled theories that Obama harbours an animus towards Britain based on a deeply-rooted rage about the way Onyango was treated.
John Ndalo Aguk, who worked with Onyango before the alleged imprisonment and was in touch with him weekly afterwards said he ‘knew nothing’ about any detention and would have noticed if he had gone missing for several months.
Zablon Okatch, who worked with Onyango as a servant to American diplomats after the supposed incarceration, said: ‘Hussein was never jailed. I know that for a fact. It would have been difficult for him to get a job with a white family, let alone a diplomat, if he once served in jail.’
Charles Oluoch, whose father was adopted by Onyango, said that ‘he did not have any trouble with the government in any way’.
Dick Opar, a relative by marriage to Onyango and a senior Kenyan police official, gave what Maraniss judged to be the most authoritative word. ‘People make up stories,’ he said. ‘If you get arrested, you say it was the fight for independence, but they are arrested for another thing.
‘I would have known. I would have known. If he was in Kamiti Prison for only a day, even if for a day, I would have known.’
Maraniss also casts a sceptical eye on Obama’s grandmother’s tales of racism in Kansas, doubting whether she was ever chastised for addressing a black janitor as ‘Mister’ or ridiculed for playing with a black girl.