MN Exclusive: President Obama’s Brother, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, Talks Domestic Violence Endured By Their Father
President Obama’s half-brother Mark Obama Ndesandjo is a skillful pianist, author and businessman. Educated at Brown, Stanford and Emory Universities, he uses his skills to create art, pen memoirs, and teach the arts to orphans in Shenzhen, People’s Republic of China. After living there for 12 years, Ndesandjo says living in China helped find himself, whereas growing up in Kenya taught him survival skills and America overwhelmed him as he attempted to navigate the academic and dating scene.
In 2009, Nedesandjo published his semi-autobiographical novel, Nairobi to Shenzhen. Currently, he is preparing for his new memoir Cultures :My Odyssey of Self-Discovery to be published worldwide February 2014. On the heels of that release, we spoke with Ndesandjo about the book’s intimate details of the domestic violence he and his mother endured from Barack Obama, Sr. — the father he shares with President Obama.
What purpose will your memoir serve to you and the general public?
Michelle Obama, my sister-in-law called me the “wayward one.” She was joking gently but I think she was curious about my background. Although I am of mixed race, I zig-zaged from Kenya to America and now I am living in China. Because I was able to move across cultures, I have observed how people tend to find themselves. In doing so, I wanted to tell my story instead of other people telling it for me. Gandhi once said “To find yourself, you have to lose yourself at the service of others.” It is a really interesting point because my book brings out some real issues that can hopefully help other families to resolve their own challenges. I want my book to showcase the importance of helping others and combating domestic violence.
Does your brother (President Obama) approve of you writing it?
Before Barack became President he told me “go live your life.” My writing has been a tool for me to express how I feel about my family. We all often grow up with our own ideas of how our family is.
What were your thoughts on President Obama’s memoir “Dreams From My Father?”
I actually read his memoir a few years ago. To read a memoir about someone very close to you or a family member takes courage. It will take courage from him to read my book because we both have touched upon things that hit close to home. Barack and I disagree on things when it comes to our personal history. For example, at the time of Barack’s memoir he was trying to develop his political identity. He wanted to reconcile different cultures, to find the best of both cultures that were a part of him. Using our father’s identity, Barack then created his own. When I read the book, I found out there were a lot of things (at least regarding me and my family) that were not accurate. That said, we all have ways of looking at things. It is very natural. I see him as my brother, I don’t always see him as the President. There is always that difference and it is hard to grasp at times.
How do you portray your father in your book versus President Obama’s portrayal?
My book will show the reality of living in Kenya because I grew up there with my father. The portrait that is presented by Barack in his memoir of our father is a huge difference in how I portray our father. Our father is a man of great disillusion. In other words, I am referring to the drinking and domestic violence. In my book, chapters two and three are titled: “My Parents: A Failed Elopement” and “Dissolution: Johnnie Walker Black Label”. Johnnie Walker, Black Label is the whiskey he drank very often, almost daily. I remember him being around more through his scent of the whiskey than his actual face or presence. These are details that I do not think Barack has come to terms with.