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By W. Gardner Selby August 17, 2012

Texas legislator says Barack Obama says we're our brother's keeper while Kenyan relatives live in poverty

State Rep. Bill Zedler lofted a double-sided claim about Barack Obama the day the Democratic president raised money by stumping in Texas.

The Arlington Republican said in a July 17, 2012, Twitter post: "While Obama preaches ‘we are our brother’s keeper,’ his brother & aunt live in real poverty in Kenya."

Obama often says Americans should care for one another. He said in his weekly radio address of Nov. 24, 2011: "This sense of mutual responsibility – the idea that I am my brother’s keeper; that I am my sister’s keeper – has always been a part of what makes our country special." He revisited that sentiment in his radio address of Dec. 24, 2011 and in a Feb. 2, 2012, speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, a Feb. 28, 2012, address to the United Auto Workers and a March 30, 2012, campaign speech in Burlington, Vt.

And are the president’s brother and aunt impoverished in Kenya, as Zedler says?

Obama has no Kenyan brothers. But by email, Zedler told us he relied on an excerpt of an interview of Obama’s Kenyan half-brother, George Obama, by Dinesh D’Souza, a former policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and author of a 2010 book, "The Roots of Obama’s Rage." George and Barack Obama had the same father.

Zedler said he learned of the aunt’s conditions from a Fox News report featuring D’Souza. On July 17, 2012,  D’Souza told Fox News host Sean Hannity that George Obama is living in "third-world poverty... And Obama won’t lift a finger to help him," according to a transcript of the appearance we obtained via the Nexis database. D’Souza also told Hannity that Obama has an aunt, his late father’s sister, "who as we speak is selling coal on the streets of Kenya for a couple dollars a day."

A sizable share of Kenyans live in poverty. According to the Kenya section of the CIA’s "World Factbook," 50 percent of the nation’s residents lived below the poverty line as of 2000. As of 2005, according to the World Bank, the share of Kenyans living under the nation’s poverty line was 46 percent.

For this article, we hunted for evidence that Obama’s half-brother and aunt live in poverty and that President Obama has not helped either one.

By email, D’Souza told us he was referring to Hawa Auma Obama, whose brother was the president’s father. D’Souza said his information originated in a 2011 book by reporter Sally H.Jacobs, "The Other Barack," a biography of Obama’s father.

Jacobs writes in the book that Hawa Auma, a widow, lives in a Kenyan village where she "spends most of her days sitting at the edge of the dirt road next to a pile of charcoal stubs that she sells" for about 40 cents per 2-kilogram tin. The aunt delights in a set of glasses that then-Sen. Obama gave her; he also gave her about $140 when he visited in 2006, Jacobs writes. "She wonders aloud if he will pay to get her teeth fixed," she writes.

D’Souza’s videotaped interview of George Obama, placed on YouTube July 10, 2012, is described by the Hollywood Reporter as folding into a soon-to-be released movie featuring D’Souza, "2016: Obama’s America."

In the interview, D’Souza tells George Obama that he had seen articles on CNN and elsewhere in the 2008 election year suggesting Barack Obama had not "done anything to help you."

"I think he has a family of his own," George Obama replies. "He is supposed to help his family."

D’Souza: "...Don’t you think you’re part of his family?"

Obama: "Yeah, I’m part of his family. But I’m over it. I can help myself."

D’Souza: "...Well, let me put it a different way. Recently, President Obama spoke and he was quoting from the famous story, of Cain and Abel, that we are our brother’s keeper."

D’Souza asked George Obama: "Now my point is, you are his brother. Has he been your keeper?"

Obama: "Go ask him. He’s got other issues to deal with."

D’Souza: "Well, he’s taking care of the world, but don’t you start at home?"

Obama: "Yeah, he’s taking care of the world. So he’s taking care of me. I’m part of the world." Obama then agreed the president doesn’t have to help him directly.

D’Souza told the Hollywood Reporter that he met George Obama at a Nairobi hotel and they spent about 12 hours together. D’Souza is also quoted saying George Obama "lives in rubble on a few dollars a day while his powerful, multi-millionaire brother doesn't lift a finger to help him." By email, D’Souza told us that George Obama told him he lives on around $10 a month.

In D’Souza’s 2010 book on the president, he writes that he read a 2008 London Telegraph news article on George Obama which showed him standing outside a ramshackle hut on Nairobi’s outskirts.

That Aug. 20, 2008, Telegraph article actually summarizes an article in the Italian edition of Vanity Fair magazine, which said that George Obama, then 26, had met his American half-brother twice -- once when he was a youngster and again in 2006 when Barack Obama visited Nairobi.

In his 2010 book, "Homeland," George Obama wrote that he was nervous about the 2006 visit with his half-brother, who was then a U.S. senator. "I was the kid from the slum, the Obama son who had been a gangster and served time," he wrote, adding that they greeted each other and shook hands toward the end of a family gathering. He wrote, too, that the pair lacked time for a conversation stretching to issues in the "ghetto" that he and others were trying to address. In the book, he said he briefly saw his half-brother again at a Nairobi hotel and the senator said he would call to chat longer, but no call came.

As Obama won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, George Obama said he agreed to be interviewed by a European journalist -- evidently the one who wrote the article for the Italian Vanity Fair.

The Vanity Fair article, as recapped by the Telegraph, quoted George Obama as saying: "No-one knows who I am. I live here on less than a dollar a month." An accompanying photo is captioned: "George Hussein Onyango Obama, Sen. Barack Obama's long lost brother, was tracked down living in a hut on the outskirts of Nairobi."

George Obama wrote in his book that he was photographed standing in the gateway of his late aunt’s home. He added: "No one could live on a dollar a day, let alone on three and a half cents a day, not even a Nairobi ghetto-dweller like me." He lives in a slum, Obama conceded, but did not resent that or feel his brother should do something about his situation. "No way," George Obama wrote.

In the book, Obama further wrote that he later told a CNN reporter, David McKenzie: "I was brought up well; I live well even now." He said he did a similar interview with the London Times; an Aug. 22, 2008, article is available to paying readers on the Times’ website.

D’Souza’s book says a 2008 CNN report -- perhaps the one mentioned in his interview of George Obama -- confirmed the Telegraph’s account.

That’s not entirely so. The Oct. 22, 2008, CNN report describes George Obama as angered by the Italian Vanity Fair article.  "I was brought up well. I live well even now," CNN reported Obama as saying. "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."

So, while George Obama lives in a slum, there are no indications he has been waiting for his half-brother to bail him out.

For another observer’s take, we asked Washington Post journalist David Maraniss, who travelled to Kenya while researching his 2012 book on Barack Obama’s roots, about Zedler’s claim.

Maraniss replied that the president has many Kenyan relatives with "varying economic circumstances." He said he did not visit George Obama.

Separately, we emailed the White House about Zedler’s claim, drawing no reply.

Our ruling

President Obama, who often refers to being our brother’s keepers, has a half-brother, George Obama, living in a Nairobi slum and, as of 2011, a Kenyan aunt who sold charcoal by the road.

The president gave the aunt some money in 2006, according to Jacobs’ account. There appears to be no sign of his otherwise helping his aunt or half-brother.

Finally, Zedler's statement implies the president is not addressing distant family needs. That’s at least slightly misleading in that the half-brother has said he doesn’t expect such aid. Notably, too, there appear to be no signs of the president revealing that he is or is not privately pitching in.

We rate the claim Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Speeches, Barack Obama, "Remarks by the President at the National Prayer Breakfast," Feb. 2, 2012; "Remarks by the President to UAW Conference," Feb. 28, 2012; "Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event," March 30, 2012

News article, "Barack Obama's Brother to Make Film Debut in Anti-Obama Documentary," The Hollywood Reporter, July 9, 2012

Transcript, Sean Hannity interview of Dinesh D’Souza, Fox News, July 17, 2012 (Nexis search)

Book, "The Other Barack," Sally H. Jacobs, Public Affairs, 2011

Book, "The Roots of Obama’s Rage," Dinesh D’Souza, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2010

Book, "Homeland," George Obama with Damien Lewis, Simon & Schuster, 2010

News article, "Barack Obama's 'lost' brother found in Kenya," The (United Kingdom) Daily Telegraph, Aug. 20, 2008

News post, "Behind the Scenes: Meet George Obama," CNN Politics web page, Oct. 22, 2008

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Texas legislator says Barack Obama says we're our brother's keeper while Kenyan relatives live in poverty

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