Theodore Dalrymple made a point that is key to understanding African politics: the typical corrupt Big Man does not see himself as a greedy person. Instead, every time he climbs the ladder of success, more relatives show up insisting that he subsidize them, and his closer relatives all agree with them and nag him to take on even broader responsibilities for supporting the ever extending family. Barack Obama Sr. was undone, in part, by this requirement to play the Big Man with his relatives even when he could no longer afford it.
Barack Obama Jr. has come under the same pressures during his brief visits to Kenya. Nicholas Kristoff writes in the New York Times:
Senator Obama barely knew his father and does not know his Kenyan relatives well. He has visited Kenya three times, most recently very briefly in 2006.
On his last visit, Mr. Obama visited two area schools that had been renamed for him. The intention in renaming the schools seems to have been partly to attract funding. One person after another noted pointedly that it was a shame that a school named for a great American should be so dilapidated.
Some of Mr. Obama’s innumerable relatives also see him as a meal ticket. They have made arrangements with a tour group to bring buses of visitors to have tea with Mama Sarah.
They are also trying to raise money from interviews with her. I had made arrangements to visit Mama Sarah weeks ago, and she had agreed to speak. But when I showed up, she said that her children had told her to keep quiet. Frantic phone calls. Fierce arguments. Hints that money might make an interview possible. I didn’t pay. I didn’t get the interview.