Malik Obama banking on presidential link in Kenyan race

January 17, 2013

President Obama’s Kenyan half-brother is going into politics, thanks to the example set by his younger brother.

"When I look at the success that my brother has had in America, I feel I would have let down my people if I do not follow in his footsteps and end their suffering through dedicated, honest and focused leadership," Malik Obama told the AFP early this morning.

Malik Obama announced his plans to run for a Kenyan gubernatorial seat in Siaya earlier this week. The 54-year-old economist has no apparent political experience; a 2011 NPR report describes him merely as “volatile” and locally infamous for taking a 19-year-old schoolgirl as his third wife.

Instead, Malik Obama’s relationship to the U.S. president seems like a major part of his fledgling platform. Critics have already accused him of riding his brother's coattails, according to The Star, an English-language paper based in Nairobi. In interviews with that paper and AFP, Malik Obama has insisted his ties to the White House will help secure resources for the poverty-stricken region, which has the highest HIV and malaria infection rates in Kenya.

"By virtue of my second name alone, I have the connections to bring development to Siaya," he told AFP.

That strategy makes sense -- President Obama remains popular in Kenya. A 2004 report in Nairobi’s Daily Nation describes “agitated villagers … waiting in awe” and keeping “their ears glued to battered transistor radios to keep abreast with the latest information about Obama Jr’s political exploits.” After Obama’s reelection in November, Malik Obama told a GlobalPost reporter that his brother "has inspired a lot of people, one of them being myself.”

Unfortunately for Malik Obama, he isn’t the only candidate with famous relations. Oburu Odinga, the younger brother of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, will also seek the seat.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Ed O'Keefe · January 17, 2013