Obama inspires brother to run for office in Kenya

January 19, 2013 - 5:06:02 am

KOGELO, Kenya: US President Barack Obama’s message of hope and change has inspired his half-brother Malik to launch a political career of his own, with his eye on elections in Kenya in March.

“If my brother is doing great things for people in the United States, why can’t I do great things for Kenyans here?” Malik Obama said in the village of Kogelo, President Obama’s ancestral homeland.

Malik, 54, is running for governorship of the rural Siaya county as an independent candidate.

His sibling’s message resonates with a Kenyan electorate angry over a political class widely regarded as greedy and corrupt. 

However, the odds are stacked against lone candidates in a country where ideology is trumped by tribe or clan ties. This  is the first time independents have been permitted to run in an election after a constitutional change in 2010. For Obama, the inspiration comes from elsewhere.  “He is an inspiration to me and I feel that he is an embodiment of my father’s dream,” he said of the US leader.

“All he told me is ‘brother, it is not an easy thing to get into public office. Just have a thick skin because people will be targeting you. The media will be saying this and that. There will be people who love you and people who wont love you’.” 

He said his younger brother has flourished by following the footsteps of their father, Barack Obama Snr — the first African to attend the University of Hawaii before returning home to work in the senior echelons of the Kenyan civil service. “The old and tested way has not really worked for us. Right now we need a bold, radical and fresh approach,” he said. 

Running late for the interview, Obama apologised, explaining he had to stop his car several times to talk to locals, who would routinely flag him down for greetings.

He says his race in the election is motivated by a desire to foster economic development and to answer the call of duty.