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Secret colonial file on Barack Obama Sr. released by British

Photograph: Guardian

The British Foreign Office released 8,800 documents Tuesday related to the colonial era.

When the British Foreign Office released thousands of colonial-era files Wednesday, one name stood out – Barack H. Obama, father of the United States president.

The elder Obama was on a list of names in a secret file about Kenyans studying in the U.S., the Guardian of London reported. The file lists Kenyans, including "OBAMA, Barrack H," who, at the age of 23, enrolled at the University of Hawaii. 

In 1959, when Barack Obama Sr. had gone to study in Hawaii, U.S. officials told the British they worried that Kenyan students had a reputation for being “anti-American” and “anti-white,” the Guardian reported.

Ben Curtis / AP file

A photograph of Barack Obama Sr. hangs in the home of his grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama, in Kogelo, a village near the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya.


Colonial administrators in Nairobi claimed that Kenyans who studied abroad were “academically inferior” to those who studied in Africa. They also criticized the African American Students Foundation – supported by actor Sydney Poitier and baseball star Jackie Robinson – which gave Obama a grant to study.

In memos between the U.S. and Britain, colonial officials questioned the caliber of the students chosen, according to the BBC. A particularly frustrated British colonial official told Americans that the students had been personally selected by sponsors who had picked candidates from their tribal groups.  

"The motives behind this enterprise, therefore, seem more political than educational," the note stated.

U.S. officials replied that Kenyans had a reputation for falling “into bad hands.”

Ultimately, officials on both sides of the pond concluded nothing could be done, the BBC reported.

"The best we can hope to achieve is to exert some influence over them while they are here," wrote one official.

In the memoir, "Dreams of My Father," Obama wrote that his father had been among the first wave of Africans to be sent the U.S. to master Western technology and bring it back to Africa.

The next year, Barack Obama Sr. met Ann Dunham while studying Russian at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and the two had a baby who would later become the president of the United States. Barack Obama Jr. was born in 1961.

In total, 8,800 colonial documents were sent to England when the colonies gained independence – for Kenya, that was in 1963. The records have been in a secret archive for the last 50 years, violating the country’s open records law, according to the Guardian.

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