Barack Obama's Half-Brother Loses the Ovarian Lottery

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Picture: Guy Calaf / Vanity Fair, Italy

I think a huge part of what motivates me to develop myself as a global citizen is the following: at least one of every two children that is born into the world today lives in conditions that those reading this can't even imagine.  Half the world lives on under $2 a day, and it's a world that people with access to a computer can't hope to relate to. 

It would be a lot easier for me to live in this world if I believed half the world deserved that fate.  It would be a lot easier for me to live in this world everyone in this world has a chance at success.  I know the truth, though.  The truth is success and privilege has more to do with chance than ability.  I've known to many good, hard-working people that have landed on the wrong side of chance to believe otherwise.  Their only sins are the circumstances they were born into.

Nothing illustrates this better than the fate of the half-brother of Barack Obama, who was recently found by a reporter with the Italian edition of Vanity Fair.
Nick Pisa of The Daily Telegraph reports:

[George Hussein Onyango] Obama, 26, the youngest of the presidential candidate's half-brothers, spoke for the first time about his life, which could not be more different than that of the Democratic contender.

"No-one knows who I am," he told the magazine, before claiming: "I live here on less than a dollar a month."
Nick Pisa - The Daily Telegraph (20 August 2008)
One brother lives on less than $1 a month in a shantytown.  The other is the potential next president of the United States.  Only circumstance can explain a disparity of that kind.  Innate ability has very little to do with it.

George Obama lost the "ovarian lottery", a term that has been made famous by one of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet. Buffet explains the term here:

"The world is unfair, and I have been very lucky. I was born white - and male - in the world's richest country, to parents that took care of me, and inspired me. I could, for example, have been born a woman - in Bangladesh - with few possibilities of development. It's a big lottery.

He is, in fact, famous for the concept of "The Ovarian Lottery" - a variant of the well-known American philosopher John Rawls' (1921-2002) theory of justice.

"Imagine that you were asked - 24 hours before your own birth - what kind of a world you would create. You know nothing about who you are, where you're heading or what kind of talents you've got. Most people would want two things: a system that works for production of goods and services, and fair distribution of them. In this lottery it is necessary to take care of the people with the lousy tickets," Buffet says.
Kathrine Aspaas - Aftenposten (2 November 2005)
I like the term because of how raw it is.  It hammers home the crap shoot that is life. Barack Obama's half-brother got one of the lousy tickets, but we don't live in a world yet where we can take care of those people.  Some will argue that there are enough people with lousy tickets in the U.S., but we don't live in a world where we can only worry about taking care of our own.  

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symsess said:

This is so true and something that very few take the time to realize. I believe that Americans should not be selfish with the gift we were given simply by being born here. It amazes me how much selfishness there is in migrant bashing. There is little humility and appreciation for what we've been given (other than to chant "USA" nonsensically I guess) not to mention the fact that so much tragedy was created to forge our nation.

This is why your work and insight is so much appreciated. We need sane and compassionate voices not only in the immigration debate, but in dealing with the problems faced by so many all over the world.

Does Obama acknowledge his brother and is he doing anything to help him? This is quite an odd situation given Obama'a success.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

I'm not sure about Obama's relationship with his family in Kenya. I imagine it's a difficult situation. From the few interviews I've read with his family there they don't seem to want to get special treatment.

symsess said:

That's understandable. I just hadn't heard this story before and the VF article seems to paint George's words as a lament.

Hopefully we'll get to a place where things are better globally. I just watched the documentary The Devil's Miner and was quite moved by it. Children working in a silver mine risking their lives for $4 a day is simply a tragedy. The focus of the movie, Basilio, is extremely mature and knowledgable for his age and is a stark contrast from many American children.

barb said:

"I like the term because of how raw it is. It hammers home the crap shoot that is life."

that is so perfectly said!

great post Kyle!

NLinStPaul said:

I want to thank you for this powerful statement Kyle. And also tell you that I seriously stole your thoughts and wrote about it at Docudharma.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

It's not stealing, it's an honor NLinStPaul. I'm just glad people appreciate this sort of work. Docudharma is one of the most important allies we have in the pro-migrant blogosphere.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks barb!

This post wasn't as well crafted as it should have been, but that specific sentence I actually crafted deliberately to get across the feeling that I wanted. I'm glad you picked up on it.

Nick Schultz said:

First time visitor and I'm glad I stopped in.

Your Quote;

"The truth is success and privilege has more to do with chance than ability. I've known to many good, hard-working people that have landed on the wrong side of chance to believe otherwise. Their only sins are the circumstances they were born into."

How true this is. The world is being cheated by not having the opportunity to see how far these individuals could go if they only had the opportunity to succeed.

Great article.


Tom said:

You Americans make me fu*king sick. If you want to help third world countries stop bombing us so you can win elections and stop propping up dictators so you can feed your oil addiction which is worse than that of any junkies I have seen in third world shacks.
And you hypocrites want Obama to send money to an unknown family member who wants nothing but to stand on his own legs.
I have to go puke now.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Tom, where did anyone say Obama should give his half-brother money?

Tom said:

I'm sorry and I apologize. That was being said at another blog and I confused my posts.
This blog seems to be having more thoughtful Americans though its a shame your country has been hijacked from people like you.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Dear Tom,

Here on Citizen Orange we go against the grain from much of the Internet nativism that exists today. Founded in principles of global justice and equity we advocate on behalf of migrants. We are not only "Americans" or citizens of our respective nations, but citizens of the world as well.

I hope to see you back here on Citizen Orange more often. Contact me through our contact form if you want to learn more about what we do.

I hope all is well.


Barak H. Obama is a very lowsome individual to realize he has family living under these conditions and refuses to assist them in any way. If he can so easily turn his back on his own blood relative, it will be very easy for him to turn his back on America, if elected. (God forbid). No one of any decent character would allow this sort of situation while knowing that they are in a position to assist.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Well, Eye of Texas, I don't know if you saw the previous comments, but they pretty much refute what you just said. It's obvious that Barack Obama's half-brother prefers dignity to hand outs and lifting himself up by the fame of another. He should be praised for that not ridiculed.

If anything what you should take away from this, is that we live in a world where an individuals success is defined more by chance than ability. That's what we should be working to change.


"Lifting himself up by the fame of another" makes absolutely no sence when the "another" is a half-brother. The Obamas are worth millions and they should do what is right even if George had no idea who was helping him.

Don't exactly know what you mean by "success is defined more by chance than ability. That's what we should be working to change". If you are talking wealth redistribution, you are way off base. This is not a Marxist world and individuals will never be equal. The ones driven by education, motivation and hard work will always excell over the uneducated, lazy and unemployed. I should not be taxed at a 50 or 60% rate to provide housing, food, medical or anything else for someone who chooses to live off of government social services.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Dear Eye of Texas,

I try to respectful towards everyone. You're patriarchy towards George Obama is disrespectful. Read the article. George Obama says he does not want Obama's help. The fact that you presume to know better is arrogant, there's no other word for it.

The fact that you choose to describe me with labels such as "Marxist" is also disrespectful. What I mean when I say that "success is defined more by chance than ability" is that you have a one in two chance of being born into living on less than $2 a day, poverty that you and me can't even hope to relate to since we're communicating on a computer.

George Obama landed on the wrong side of that statistic and that's what we have to work to change. If you can't be bothered by the poverty of billions, than I suggest you go find somewhere else to comment, because your views will not receive a hearty welcome here on Citizen Orange.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on August 20, 2008 10:20 PM.

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