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Obama's brother is a hopeless drunk, lives in a one-room shack in Nairobi

Nairobi, Aug 11: US President Barack Obama's  half-brother George Hussein Obama lives in a shack  near a junk-strewn yard in Nairobi. The two men may share the same father, but while Barack Obama was born
PTI August 11, 2012 22:06 IST
Nairobi, Aug 11: US President Barack Obama's  half-brother George Hussein Obama lives in a shack  near a junk-strewn yard in Nairobi.

The two men may share the same father, but while Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to his father's American second wife, George — born in Kenya — was the product of Obama Senior's fourth marriage.

Today, while Barack entertains at the White House, flies aboard Air Force One and is a friend of film stars and royalty, George, 30, is to be found slumped in his corrugated iron shack which even fellow slum-dwellers regard as a hovel, says a Daily Mail report.

Details of his unorthodox lifestyle emerged with news that he has agreed to appear in a documentary film being made by one of Barack Obama's most trenchant critics.

Called 2016, and directed by the production team behind Schindler's List, the film sets out the supposed horrors of another four years of Obama in office — though George does not criticise the President on screen.

It is the idea of U.S. author Dinesh D'Souza, whose book The Roots Of Obama's Rage paints a deeply unflattering portrait of the ‘narcissistic' President.

George has also written a memoir, called Homeland. Published in 2012, it details how he turned his back on a middle-class Kenyan upbringing to live among the desperately poor in Nairobi's infamous slums.

The book's summary says:  ‘George chooses to live in the Nairobi ghetto, where he works to help the ghetto-dwellers, and especially the slum kids, overcome the challenges surrounding their lives.'

And the book quotes George thus: ‘My brother has risen to be the leader of the most powerful country in the world. Here in Kenya, my aim is to be a leader among the poorest people on Earth: those who live in the slums.'

In what sounds like the script for a Hollywood film, he claims to have been the driving force behind the transformation of a slum football team into one of the top sides in Kenya, known as ‘Obama's champs'.

Such, apparently, is his devotion to good works that many Kenyans want George to stand for President, believing anyone sharing the name and blood of the most powerful politician on the planet can transform their lives.

But  this may prove beyond George. Indeed, standing — let alone talking much sense or walking in a straight line — is tricky for the U.S. President's brother much of the time, due to his chronic addiction to drink and years of drug abuse.

Nor is there anything heroic and altruistic about his motives for living in the slums. His principal reason is that the potent local moonshine is cheap and readily available here, as is cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

Clearly following the dictum that the best place to hide a tree is in a forest, George's decision to settle in a slum called Huruma — which is scarred by alcoholism, drug addiction and violence — means his own destructive behaviour attracts little attention.

Although he claims not to be using heroin or cocaine, George now spends his time drinking what locals call Chang'aa — a spirit distilled with maize and spiked with chemicals — from the moment he wakes to the moment he slips into unconsciousness.

Laced with ethanol, embalming fluid or battery acid to give it more kick, this substance is regularly blamed for causing blindness and death when the criminal syndicates behind the trade mix it wrongly.

A glass costs about 10 pence (Rs 8)  and, after just five small shots, even hardened drinkers can barely remember their own name. Regular users suffer liver and kidney failure, as well as mental impairment known as ‘wet brain'.

Drinking and smoking marijuana by the age of ten, five years later he was thrown out of boarding school, where he played rugby and learned foreign languages, for taking drugs.

He admits that after becoming addicted to cocaine and heroin at 17, he became an armed robber to pay for drink and drugs. Living with his ‘black brothers' on the streets, he was jailed in 2003, accused of playing a part in an attempted armed robbery.

Held on remand for nine months before being acquitted for lack of evidence, George claims his spell behind bars changed him. ‘It was hell on earth — literally,' he tells me. ‘You either come out of there worse, or you change for the better. I changed. I wanted to help other people.'

When the author tracked  George down early one morning to find out about his life, he's already been for a liquid breakfast at the nearest Chang'aa den, where sex with prostitutes is also on the menu in a bed kept at the back.

Introductions are made by George's ‘security man' — a red-eyed slum dweller and fellow heavy-drinker who drags George out of the den, shouting at him to come and see the ‘muzungu' (white man) outside.

Then, after shaking hands, the author invited George to lunch at his hotel. For the next two days, he laid siege to the author's  mini-bar, invited a succession of girlfriends and ‘security advisers' to wine and dine at his  expense, and behaved like he is a famous, spoilt celebrity.

He also repeatedly demanded  ‘kitu kidogo' — Swahili for something small, which, of course, means something large and financial — and is appalled when the author refused  to hand out cash to his assorted girlfriends.

Paradoxically, George also moaned endlessly about the Obama name being a burden and a curse — yet, at the same time, unashamedly was using  it to make as much money as possible to spend on drink and drugs.

‘People are only interested in me because of my brother,' he sighs, slurping a double Johnnie Walker, with a beer chaser — one of many. ‘I hate it. People all want me to be someone else.'

George first met Barack in a playground when he was at primary school. Barack was a young visitor to Nairobi just a few years after their father died in a car crash. George recalls he was playing football when his brother arrived to say hello.

The second time their paths crossed was when Obama — then a Senator — was on a tour of East Africa in 2006, and visited Nairobi to see his family. They shook hands — the two utterly different worlds they inhabited coming together under the African sun.

‘He is an inspiration,' George observes. ‘We have met a couple of times. We do speak . . . he is my brother.'

Yet Barack escaped his father's curse. The turning point came one night when, after a college party involving drink and drugs, a female friend scolded him for being self-obsessed and told Barack  that life ‘isn't just about you'.

He gave up drugs, vowing not to repeat the mistakes of his father. Sadly, there seems little hope of a similar ending for George.

The money from his book — reputed to have been an eight million Kenyan shilling advance (Rs  43 lakhs) — went on drink, drugs and a two-month sojourn with his hangers-on in Mombasa, the country's stunning beach resort.

And despite his claims that he chooses to stay in his one-room shack, he is only there because he has spent all his money. Friends told the author  he used to live in a much bigger house in a better area, and is given the room in Huruma now for free out of charity because he is down on his luck.

All the people in the township know George as a drunk, for all his claims to be a practising Muslim, and friends have urged him to seek help.

‘He's a madman, really ill, but he doesn't know he is,' says Tony, from the football club. ‘He's in black-out most of the time. We hope the Obama name will help our area. But George seems cursed.'