The Chinese Obama

Nov 18, 2009 7:00am

ABC News’ Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller, Karen Travers and Nadine Shubailat report:

BEIJING  — Before President Obama met with Chinese President and Paramount Leader Hu Jintao after arriving in Beijing, he squeezed in a brief family reunion of sorts with his half brother, Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo.

Ndesandjo shares a father with the president — the late Barack Obama Sr. who separated from the president’s mother when Obama was two, and married Ndesandjo’s mother, American Ruth Nidesand, who runs a kindergarten in Nairobi, Kenya.

In “Dreams From My Father,” Obama describes meeting Mark, who said at the time he never thought of settling in Kenya since, “there’s not much work for a physicist, is there, in a country where the average person doesn’t have a telephone… You think that somehow I’m cut off from my roots, that sort of thing. Well, you’re right… At a certain point I made the decision not to think about who my real father was. He was dead to me even when he was still alive. I knew that he was a drunk and showed no concern for his wife and children. That was enough.”
“It made you mad,” Obama said.
“Not mad,” replied Mark.” Just numb.”
Obama wrote that when he said goodbye to Mark, “we exchanged addresses and promised to write, with a dishonesty that made my heart ache.”
Ndesandjo grew up in Kenya but now lives near Hong Kong. He and his wife flew in specially this week to meet with the President. 

In an interview Wednesday with ABC News, Ndesandjo said he is “over the moon” for having seen his “big brother” in China.

“When I looked at Barack, I said ‘hey you’re — those are nice threads you’re wearing man, bro. We dressed up for you but we didn’t think you’d look this good.’ And he smiled.”

The two first met in 1988 when a young Barack Obama visited Nairobi.

“It was a very powerful experience coming out to Nairobi, I was on my way to University graduate school and I walked out into the, our house and I saw this big lanky guy with a huge afro,” Ndesandjo recalled of their first meeting. “Very serious face. The face of a dreamer.”

It was one of only a handful of meetings the two have had. They last met on inauguration and once again in Austin, Texas during the 2008 Presidential campaign.

In a new semi-autobiographical book, “Nairobi to Shenzhen,” Ndesandjo writes about their shared father, who he describes as an alcoholic and abusive man he lived with for seven years.

“I had no positive memories of him, because my skin had hardened in many ways to things about him that he represented for a long, long time,” Ndesandjo said in an interview with ABC News. “It was the fact that I couldn’t protect my mother, that was the thing which, which no child wants to go though. No child wants to go through that.”

What kept Ndesandjo going is something that he believes that he and his half-brother, Barack share.

“The thing that pulled me through was my mother, the women in our lives. And these are things which also run I believe through Barack’s life. Because they are strong women. You need strong women in families that experience as much as we did.”

Ndesandjo for a long while went without the added “Obama” to his name, and just recently re-added the now famous name.

“I didn’t use it for years,” Ndesandjo said. “In the sense that there are many things that I want to leave behind in my life. For example, the Obama name, which is something that I had a long time coming to terms with.”

Ndesandjo bears a resemblance to his brother – the same broad smile and similar mannerisms – so much so that President Obama once describes him like looking in a “foggy mirror.”

“Well I hope right now we’re just cleaning that mirror a little bit, “Ndesandjo said with a smile.

In an interview with CNN’s Ed Henry, President Obama said of Mark, “Well, you know, I don’t know him well. I met him for the first time a couple of years ago. He stopped by with his wife for about five minutes during the trip. I haven’t read the book.

“But it’s no secret that my father was a troubled person. Anybody who’s read my first book, ‘Dreams of My Father,’ knows that, you know, he had an alcoholism problem and that he didn’t treat his families very well. And, you know, so, obviously, that’s just a sad part of my history and my background. But it’s not something that I — I spend a lot of time brooding over.”

Watch our GMA report on the interview, and President Obama’s last days in China:

– Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller, Karen Travers and Nadine Shubailat

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