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Obama’s Brother Chooses Life in Slow Lane

October 26, 2004 GMT

NYANGOMA-KOGELO, Kenya (AP) _ Western Kenya and Illinois share a landscape of gentle hills and an economy built on family farms. But Kenya has few roads, railways and airports and nothing like the city of Chicago. And that’s just fine for Malik Obama, the older half-brother of Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat running for U.S. Senate.

``An African doesn’t need too much to go on,″ he said.

While Barack may soon be heading to Washington, Malik, a 46-year-old Kenyan, has chosen to make his life in Nyangoma-Kogelo, a village of several hundred that is the Obama ancestral home.


Until Barack’s bid for Congress, little happened here to disturb the chickens scratching in the dust or the dogs sleeping in front of tin-roofed homes.

Though peaceful, life can be hard in this part of Kenya, one of the East African nation’s poorest regions. Not only is there little infrastructure, but the region is prone to drought, which leaves many hungry.

Still, Malik Obama prefers the village to the fast-paced capital, Nairobi, where he grew up. He runs an electronics shop in a town a half-hour drive away, and works as a consultant in Washington for a few months each year.

It was in the United States, in 1985, that he first met his 43-year-old half-brother Barack.

``He was best man at my wedding and I was best man at his,″ said Malik, who likes to point out that his younger brother’s name is actually Barack Obama II, because their father was the original Barack Obama.

Their paternal grandfather, Onyango Hussein Obama, was one of the first Muslim converts in Nyangoma-Kogelo, Malik said. However, not all of his descendants are Muslim, Malik added. Barack is Christian.

The candidate’s father first worked as a university lecturer in Uganda after studying economics at Harvard University. He then worked in Kenya’s private sector before joining the treasury department, where he became a senior economist.

He died in car crash in 1982, leaving three wives, six sons and a daughter. All his children except Malik live in Britain or the United States. One of the brothers died in 1984.

Barack grew up in Hawaii with his American mother after his parents divorced. He has visited Kenya three times, most recently in the early 1990s to introduce his fiancee to his Kenyan family.

When pressed for more details about the family, Malik said, ``As far as I’m concerned, we are one family.″

Sitting in his shop, wearing glasses and a traditional cap, Malik explained that he likes his privacy. He hasn’t enjoyed visits by dozens of journalists searching for the African family of an up-and-coming politician.

In Kenya, few had heard of Barack Obama until he spoke to the Democratic National Convention. Now many middle-class Kenyans, who watched the highlights of Obama’s speech on television, are assessing his talents and discussing how Kenya needs politicians like him.

Peter Aringo, who represented Nyangoma-Kogelo in parliament for 28 years, said his constituents wanted to organize a delegation to show their support for Barack before the U.S. election, but the trip was too expensive.

``The constituents ... have been following his campaign for Senate and they’re very much supportive of one of their own,″ said Aringo.

Moses Omondi, who works in region’s only city, Kisumu, says he’s not interested in American politics, ``unless it is our man competing.″ He said he follows Barack Obama’s candidacy by listening to the British Broadcasting Corp.

These days, everyone wants to lay claim to the Barack Obama. ``Obama’s my brother,″ Omondi joked.