US officials complained that Kenyan students were becoming “anti-American and anti-white” in the year that Barack Obama’s father enrolled at University in Hawaii, previously secret files disclosed.
At that time, British colonial administrators expressed concerns about the calibre of Kenyans receiving scholarships to go to US universities...
The US President’s Kenya-born father, who had the same name as his son, came to America and began a degree in business administration in the autumn of 1959.
At that time, British colonial administrators expressed concerns about the calibre of Kenyans receiving scholarships to go to US universities, claiming they were “academically inferior” to their contemporaries who remained in Africa to study.
In particular they criticised a US-based funding body called the African American Students Foundation (AASF), which gave Mr Obama senior several grants while he was at the University of Hawaii.
Officials in the US State Department told British diplomats in 1959 they were “disturbed” by the developments and observed that Kenyan students in America had a bad reputation for “falling into the wrong hands”, according to the released files.
Mr Obama Sr met a white American called Ann Dunham on a Russian language course at the University of Hawaii in 1960. The following year they married and had a son, who went on to be elected the first black US President in 2008.
The future President’s father features as “Obama, Barrack H” in a list of Kenyans studying in the US compiled by British officials, contained in a file released at the National Archives in Kew, west London.
The papers contain strong criticism of the AASF, which took 81 Kenyans to America in September 1959 to take up University scholarships.
A diplomat at the British Embassy in Washington DC wrote a memo expressing frustration at claims in an AASF funding appeal − signed by singer Harry Belafonte, actor Sidney Poitier and baseball player Jackie Robinson − that “in Kenya today higher education is not available to Africans”.
The UK official said this was “quite untrue” and noted that the Kenyan government had provided bursaries for 451 Kenyans to pursue higher education that year.
The memo observed that the AASF had links to Kenyan nationalist leader Tom Mboya, and suggested that he favoured members of his Luo tribe − to which Mr Obama senior also belonged − in awarding the scholarships.
It said: “The motives behind this enterprise, therefore, seem more political than educational.
“The arrival here of these students, many of them of indifferent academic calibre and ill-prepared for the venture, is likely to give rise to difficult problems.”
The permanent secretary of the Kenyan Ministry of Education said: “The 81 students proposing to go to America are almost entirely of lower grade.
“It is unfortunate that these academically inferior students should obtain opportunities for higher education which may, in the eyes of Africans, appear more attractive than that obtained at Makerere (a University in Uganda) or the RTC (the Royal Technical College in Nairobi).”
The file also contains a September 1, 1959 report from the British Embassy in Washington DC to the Colonial Office in London recording US officials’ concerns about the AASF scholarships.
It says: “I have discussed with the State Department. They are as disturbed about these developments as we are.