History Prof. Co-Author of Book ‘Obama and Kenya’

Matthew Carotenuto, associate professor of history and coordinator of the Africa studies program, has written a new book on President Barack Obama’s connection to his ancestral home of Kenya.

Carotenuto co-wrote the book, Obama and Kenya, with Katherine Luongo, associate professor of history at Northeastern University. The book was published by Ohio University Press (2016).

The book explores the rise of “Obamamania” in Kenya and the ways the Obama and Kenya story provides insight into the historic politics of belonging.

“The origins for this book are actually linked to St. Lawrence,” Carotenuto said. “In the spring of 1998, as a student on the Kenya Semester Program, I got my first taste in oral historical research. Tasked with a month long oral history project with fellow student Samantha Schroeder, we spent our days stumbling around the shores of Lake Victoria interviewing members of the Luo community, not more than a few miles from where Barack Obama’s father grew up.”

The book argues that efforts to cast Obama as a “son of the soil” of the Lake Victoria basin provide sharp insights into both the global politicized uses of Kenya’s contested past and the local politics of belonging. Speaking to a broad audience interested in world affairs and ideally suited for classroom use, Obama and Kenya provides an important counterpoint to the proliferation of popular, inaccurate texts about Kenya’s history as well as focused, thematic analyses of contemporary debates about ethnic politics, “tribal” identities, postcolonial governance and U.S. African relations.

“Ever since my initial experiences in western Kenya, my work has focused on notions of identity and belonging within the Luo community,” Carotenuto said. “I had the pleasure to take students to Obama’s paternal home village of Kogelo this past spring where they spoke with students at Senator Barack Obama Secondary school (renamed in honor of then Senator Obama’s visit to the region in 2006).”

For the student’s perspective on western Kenya, read their blog posts from Spring 2016.

Carelton University will host a book launch event from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, in Ottawa.

For more information, visit the African Studies program.