Lately, I have come across numerous stories in emails, pushed by what seem to be fringe elements, discussing various aspects of Obama's private family life. Many of them seem to make fantastical claims: A couple I've run across say that his aunt was living on welfare in Boston, assert that she was at one point an "illegal immigrant", and one of the most strange I've come across recently is the claim that his brother is currently destitute and penniless living in Kenya. That last claim, in particular, is the subject of my question.

Certainly, if you Google, you can find lots of articles saying that he was. But, doing a little research, I found out that they can all be mostly traced to a single story published in mid-2008 in Vanity Fair. Putting my skeptical goggles on, I inquired at another political forum I frequent, and someone told me that it was a complete hoax made up by journalists looking for a sensational story who had misinterpreted his situation, and then promoted by political operatives, despite the fact that Obama's brother apparently had refuted all these same claims when later talked to. I tried to follow up, but my search results are all cluttered up by links pointing to the original Vanity Fair article in 2008.

How is Obama's brother really living, does anyone know?

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    President Obama has numerous half-siblings in Kenya. Is there a name attached to these emails?
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 18:00
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    @DampeS8N I dunno; it was forwarded to me partially redacted with commentary from my brother's girlfriend's mother-in-law.
    – Uticensis
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 18:02
  • @DampeS8N Oh, do you mean the name of the brother? I think it was John or George or something like that.
    – Uticensis
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 18:08
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    I guess the question is, is it fair to say that half-siblings from a father who divorced Barak Obama's mother before his first conscious memory really count as family? Biologically, sure, but it's not like anyone in that situation was arranging family reunions so they could get to know each other. Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 18:08
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    I think it was Ringo
    – user5341
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 16:55

3 Answers 3


The half-sibling in question is George Obama, who has lived at various times in Kenya and South Korea. (He also never knew his father, who died in a car accident shortly after he was born.) A few months after the Italian Vanity Fair piece saying he lived in abject poverty he was interviewed by CNN.

The reports left him angry.

"I was brought up well. I live well even now," he said. "The magazines, they have exaggerated everything.

"I think I kind of like it here. There are some challenges, but maybe it is just like where you come from, there are the same challenges," Obama said.

Obama, who is in his mid-20s, is learning to become a mechanic and is active in youth groups in Huruma. He said he tries to help the community as much as he can.

By American standards George is certainly living in poverty, but standards are different in many parts of Africa.

The other element of these stories about Obama's half-siblings is strictly political, suggesting that Mr. Obama was somehow ignoring the plight of his own family. We should remember that Mr. Obama's father divorced his mother when he was three and both his parents remarried shortly afterwards. His mother's family was living in Hawaii and then Indonesia, his father's moved to Atlanta and then Kenya. While these half-siblings may share some of Mr. Obama's DNA, they were never family in any social context.

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    @DVK Ha! If you won't except the man's own word for how he lives, what will you accept? And why do you care? Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 18:12
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    @DVK So a question on a poll that showed that Americans who make 250,000 dollars a year tend to think of themselves as middle class applies to someone living in urban Kenya... how? And let's say George Obama is lying because he's embarrassed, or because he felt some sort of obligation to a guy he met once, or because space aliens beamed messages into his head... Who cares? Why is this issue of so much importance that you assume some sort of conspiracy? I know today was a tough day for Birthers, but you have to learn to let go... Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 18:39
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    @Scott - for someone claiming to be a skeptic, you're awfully easy on both making bogus claims (someone who disagree with your personal politics MUST be a deluded "birther") and to blindly believe anything that agrees with your political worldview (even if your only evidence is a word of a person with several obvious motivations to lie/distort).
    – user5341
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 19:02
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    @Scott - as far as your first part - because the same mechanisms for self-delusion work on both brains of 250k people and Obama's broter. They both evolved from the same self-deluded ape (well technically at least two apes).
    – user5341
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 19:04
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    @DVK On a matter of so little importance I see no reason not to take the man's own word for how he himself lives. If you have evidence to the contrary, present it. If you have no evidence, shut up and stop wasting my time. Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 19:19

President Obama has a half-borther that lives in Southern China according to CNN. They have even met.

In between his arrival in Beijing, China, on Monday and his informal dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao a few hours later, President Obama met with his half-brother Mark Obama Ndesandjo.

He does not appear to be on any welfare, his occupation is listed as

a pianist in China

His other half-brother is listed as running a cell phone shop near Nairobi. It should be noted that he does have a bit of a checkered past, but it seems that stories are exagerated. Also, keep in mind that standards of living vary widely throughout the world. So while he may not have a nice standard of life compared to a middle class American, he may be doing the equivalent of "well" in Kenya.

The article states

Samson is one of President Obama's 11 half brothers and sisters by his father, Barack Obama Senior, who had children by four women.

So with that extended a family, finding dirt wouldn't be hard for anyone who wants to make an issue out of other people's behavior as opposed to focusing on the President himself (known as a red herring).

See Scott's answer for the exact brother in question (at least based on your question, that may be the one).


Please note that the first half of this question is 100% accrate claim, despite your characterization of it as "from fringe elements... fantastical claims".

According to Associate Press (not exactly known as a hotbed of anti-Obama sentiment), quoted on ABC News website and a bunch of other places:

President Barack Obama's aunt, who lived for years illegally in Boston before being granted asylum in May...

Onyango, the half sister of Obama's late father, still lives in public housing and collects $700 monthly disability. She doesn't work...

So the claim from an unnamed "couple" that you so readily dismissed (the claim being his aunt was living on welfare in Boston, assert that she was at one point an "illegal immigrant") is fully factually correct.

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    Except, of course, that they aren't Obama's family at all, in the sense of his knowing them more than slightly or having any responsibility for them. He shares DNA with them, but that's it. Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 17:27
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    @Billare I'm just adding context. Whether or not the facts are technically true, it makes a big difference to the interpretation of those facts if we're talking about the people Obama grew up with, or we're talking about people who share a small amount Obama's DNA but he barely knew. Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 17:44

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