BEIJING – He is younger and sports a shaved head and a gold stud in his left earlobe, but the slim build, the loping gait and the high-set cheekbones give him a striking resemblance to his more famous half brother, U.S. President Barack Obama.
Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo, a 43-year-old businessman and musician, has lived in southern China for seven years, the last one assiduously attempting to avoid publicity. But he broke his silence Wednesday, making a public appearance to publicize an autobiographical novel.
The self-published “From Nairobi to Shenzhen” follows Ndesandjo’s peripatetic life. He was born in Kenya, the son of Barack Obama Sr., the same father as the president, and his father’s third wife, Ruth Nidesand, the daughter of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants. The couple later divorced and Ndesandjo moved to the United States, earning degrees in physics from Brown and Stanford universities and an MBA from Emory University. He was married last year to a woman from China’s Henan province.
As with the president’s best-selling memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Ndesandjo’s book delves into growing up as a mixed race child and of a psyche shaped by an erratic father.
“My father beat my mother, and my father beat me,” Ndesandjo told the Associated Press in an interview released Wednesday.
At a news conference in Guangzhou, organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for Southern China, Ndesandjo said it took a long time before he became “proud to be an Obama.”
He said he wrote the book in part to exorcise the bad memories of his childhood and to publicize the issue of domestic violence.
Since moving to China in 2002, Ndesandjo has worked as a business consultant in Shenzhen. He also is a partner with a Chinese friend in a small chain of restaurants called Cabin BBQ.
Although most guests at Wednesday’s appearance knew of his family connection, he did not use the Obama name on the promotional posters – only the surname Ndesandjo, taken from his mother’s second husband. He has reportedly turned down offers from Chinese companies to be a product spokesman.
Although strictly autobiographical, the novel skips over the part where the protagonist’s half brother is elected president of the United States.
“I didn’t want to take on any strong political themes in this book,” Ndesandjo said.
Barack Obama Sr. died in 1982, and the half brothers did not know each other as children. They have met a few times as adults.