Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson has claimed African roots in Kenya, where President Barack Obama has close family links. But observers believe that the presidential candidate’s claim of Kenyan ancestral roots and his planned visit to Africa later in December are part of efforts to revive his floundering political fortunes believed to be due partly to public perceptions that he is inexperienced in foreign policy issues and international relations.
The retired neurosurgeon claims he has traced his ancestry to the Turkana tribe, a semi-nomadic pastoralist group in modern day Kenya. He first made the claim in July while defending comments he made in the past about President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), comparing it to slavery.
Carson said earlier in the year that the Affordable Care Act was the “worst thing since slavery.”
He defended the controversial comments, saying that his family also experienced the pains and horrors of slavery. He claimed that two of his ancestors were separated and sold to different slave owners.
“The pain and the heartache associated with that era… There is nothing that compares to it.”
“I’ve had my roots traced back, all the way up to my great great great great-grandfather who came from the Turkana tribe, which is migratory tribe, even today in Kenya and Tanzania,” he said.
The 64-year-old African American also said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show on December 7 that he is scheduled to begin a week-long tour to Africa on December 27.
He plans to visit Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia.
Speaking on Hugh Hewitt’s show, he said, “My ancestors are from the Kenya-Tanzania region, the Turkana tribe. I’ve had all of that traced back.”
“I think a lot of our policy in the future is going to affect Africa, but those three in particular because my ancestors are from the Kenya-Tanzania region, the Turkana tribe. I’ve had all of that traced back,” he added.
The statements come after costly slips that raised doubts about his preparedness to lead the country on the international stage. He blundered gravely when he suggested recently that China was involved militarily in Syria.
The White House responded to the claim with derision.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, said, “Maybe it violates my job description as a spokesperson to be speechless. But I think in this case, I am.”
Another Kenyan (Turkana) descendant running for US President!! https://t.co/mEusved4S5
— Simiyu Tete (@SimiyuTete) December 8, 2015
If Obama is from luo land and Ben Carson from Turkana then am from an aboriginal tribe somewhere in Australia
— ERROR;MENYE DETECTED (@mosesmenye) October 28, 2015
Ben Carson if u mentioned that your ancestry lies in Kenya then u automatically become the POTUS
— Esha Duke Mainga (@DeeKenya) December 8, 2015
Heard Ben Carson is visiting Kenya soon.. I can’t wait to meet him & tell him how much I did not read his books,.
— mayore (@bwrca) December 8, 2015
The Kenyan Daily Nation notes that Carson’s claim that the Turkana ethnic group are found in the “Kenyan-Tanzania” border is yet another example of his confusion of issues on the foreign front. The Kenyan news site explains that the Turkana are found in northwest Kenya, close to the country’s borders with South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Uganda, far from Tanzania.
But critics are saying Carson’s latest pronouncements are part of a strategy to revive his faltering political fortunes. Critics also say that his scheduled trip to Africa later in the month, ostensibly a “homecoming,” is part of campaign efforts to boost public perception of his foreign policy experience and his ability to manage international relations as president.
The GOP presidential aspirant has admitted that public perception that he is inexperienced in foreign policy matters and international affairs may have caused his recent drop in national polls.
The 64-year-old GOP presidential aspirant rose briefly to front-runner status in the 2016 GOP presidential field, but slipped in recent polls from first to third position. A recent Quinnipiac poll placed his support at 16 percent, a drop of seven percentage points compared with last month.
US presidential candidate Ben Carson to visit Kenya https://t.co/pYgGzz26An
— NTV Kenya (@ntvkenya) December 8, 2015
— Calestous Juma (@calestous) December 8, 2015
So Ben Carson wants the world to know he really has his roots in Kenya? SMH
— LaDiDaaa (@cindyKurt2) December 8, 2015
Ben Carson to visit Kenya. We can conclude that he has discovered the winning magic – visit Kenya. Obama and Queen Elizabeth did it.
— Godwit (@SirGIBS) December 8, 2015
I missed the one where Ben Carson traced his ancestry to the Turkana people who straddle the Kenya – Tanzania border. Well all right then.
— Wambura (@rombokins) December 8, 2015
Republican Party candidate for the US presidency Dr Ben Carson: “My ancestors are from the Kenya-Tanzania region”.
— WeAreAllHuman (@MalcolmMusiime) December 8, 2015
His closest rival, billionaire business man Donald Trump, regained his front-runner status polling 27 percent, a three percent increase compared with last month’s Quinnipiac poll.
Sen. Ted Cruz tied Carson for third place by polling 16 percent, a three percentage point increase compared with last month’s poll.
Carson plans to travel to Kenya in Africa — with stops in Nigeria and Zambia — on December 27 and return a week later as part of efforts to mend damage to his presidential campaign due to perceptions of his weakness in the foreign policy and international relations department.
Explaining why he is visiting Nigeria, Carson said, “To Nigeria, I want to get an idea from the people what the effects of Boko Haram are, what people are thinking, to see what the economic situation is there, and also there’s a medical school there named after me which I want to visit.”
Interestingly, Ben Carson is popular among Nigerian school children. He name is often mentioned by Nigerian school children listing their role models.
He also explains why he plans to visit Zambia.
“The Banda twins (Joseph and Luka Banda) are there. We separated them. They were joined at the top of the head facing in opposite directions almost 18 years ago, and this is the year they graduate from high school,” he said.
A team of surgeons led by Carson separated the conjoined twins in a surgical operation in 1997.
“They were joined at the top of the head facing in opposite directions almost 18 years ago and this is the year they graduate from high school,” he said.
Ben Carson is taking this African ancestry joke way too far…. Turkana people on the Kenya-Tanzania border?
— mmnjug™ (@mmnjug) December 8, 2015
So Ben Carson’ ancestors came from Turkana in the Kenya-Tanzania region? https://t.co/mD76UZYYvl
— Jimnah Mbaru (@JimnahMbaru) December 8, 2015
After Obama And The Pope Here Is The U.S. Presidential Candidate Who Is Coming To Kenya Soon https://t.co/9FfUuLXLiu
— Mpasho News (@MpashoNews) December 8, 2015
Ben Carson to visit Kenya and two other countries this December https://t.co/RmFafyqmEt
— News Kenya (@NewsKenya_) December 8, 2015
USA Presidential Aspirant.. Dr. Ben Carson to visit Kenya this Month. Is he trying to see the BIG PICTURE to follow in Obamas Footsteps??
— gladwell karangi (@KananaGK) December 8, 2015
Carson’s latest effort to reclaim his “African roots” could also be part of a strategy to curry the favor of African American voters, among whom he has very little political support despite having once been a popular figure and role model icon.
His ardent espousal of Tea Party conservatism with criticisms of the African American community that haven’t gone down very well have alienated him from majority of black voters who see him as pandering to white conservative voters at the expense of the black community.
Emphasizing his alleged Kenyan roots at this time could provide opportunity to contrast himself in a favorable light with President Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama is the son of a Kenyan father, Barack Obama, Sr., from the Luo ethnic group in Kenya, and an American mother, Ann Dunham, of English ancestry, native of Wichita, Kansas.
Reactions to Carson’s latest claim on social media, both in the U.S. and Africa, have been a mixture of skepticism, sarcasm, hilarity, and occasionally acceptance.
Kenyans has reacted on Twitter with comments such as, “yet another Kenyan export to the U.S.”
“Lol. I guess you can’t be president of the US unless you claim Kenyan ancestry!”
“I don’t know if there ever were slaves taken from East Africa to America in the Trans-Atlantic slave Trade; Middle East and Asia, maybe, but America? I thought they were taken from the West side of Africa, Senegal down to Angola, Congo being the deepest inwards.”
Some skeptics pointed out that the vast majority of slaves exported from Africa to the U.S. as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade came from the West African coast as far as Angola, and that most of the trade in slaves in East Africa where the Turkanas live was linked to the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade that exported Black African slaves to markets in the Middle East.
[Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP]