In November 2008, I stood in a bar in Kenya watching Barack Obama give his victory speech. From the wild cheering of the crowd on TV, and his repeated appeals to them personally—”You said,” “You heard,” “You called”—I felt as if the people of America knew this man far better than I, even though we shared the same father. If there was a leading light in the Obama clan, he was it; and if there was a shadowed place that no one liked to talk about, then that, I guess, was me.
After a relatively privileged childhood, I crashed and burned in my teenage years. I had migrated from the plush suburbs of Nairobi, Kenya, to the wild chaos of the ghetto. I lost myself in drink and drugs and became a gun-toting gangster. In my early 20s, I spent a year in a Nairobi prison on robbery charges. My imprisonment included a starvation diet and 24/7 lockdowns in overcrowded, airless cells. But I came out a different man, resolved to turn my life around and find a different path.