Obama’s tortured grandfather casts shadow over US-British ties

January 21st, 2009 - 5:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaLondon, Jan 21 (IANS) US President Barack Obama may not instantly warm up to Britain because of the disturbing history of his nationalist grandfather’s torture by British colonialists in Kenya, commentators warned. “Obama’s only previous connection with Britain was through his grandfather, who was allegedly tortured by British troops during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya,” said Edward Heathcoat-Amory, a leading political columnist in the pro-Conservative Daily Mail newspaper Wednesday.

“With these strong links to Africa, Obama sees Britain as one of the old colonial powers. He won’t instinctively warm to us,” he added.

In the runup to his inauguration Tuesday a number of commentators have pointed to a shocking chapter in the US president’s personal history - how his paternal grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama was tortured for his alleged part in the Kenyan independence struggle 60 years ago.

Onyango was a cook for a British army officer and had served in Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka and the Middle East during World War II but was incarcerated in a high-security prison in 1949 on suspicion of being an informer for the nationalist Mau Mau guerrilla movement.

Although Obama never met his grandfather, he devoted 35 pages to him in his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father.

After his step-grandmother Sarah told him about Onyango’s life during a trip to Kenya in 1986, Obama wrote, he dropped to the ground between the graves of his father and grandfather and wept.

“When my tears were spent I felt the circle finally close. I saw that my life in America - the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I’d felt as a boy - all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away. The pain I felt was my father’s pain. My questions were my brothers’ questions. Their struggle, my birthright.”

Obama says his grandfather “received a hearing” and was “found innocent” after being held “for more than six months.”

When Onyango returned to his village, Obama wrote, “he was very thin and dirty. He had difficulty walking, and his head was full of lice. From that day on he was an old man.”

Last month, Sarah Onyango gave details of the torture that her husband suffered, causing commentators to express doubts about the future of the Anglo-American ’special relationship’.

Obama does not have the close British links of many previous US presidents - both Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr had a chemistry with prime minister Margaret Thatcher, while Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University.

George W Bush too developed a close personal friendship with premier Tony Blair.

“President-elect Obama does not come from the old American political establishment that produced Presidents Bush senior and junior,” said a BBC commentator.

“In fact, he has cause to distrust the British, his grandfather having been imprisoned and tortured during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.”

“The phrase ’special relationship’… will not be heard that much, except from those describing its demise or, at least, its diminishment,” he added.

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