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Q:
Does Barack Obama have Kenyan citizenship?

The Rocky Mountain News has reported (below) that Barack Obama "Holds both American and Kenyan (since 1963) citizenship." Is this true?

The Rocky Mountain News
August 6, 2008

Entered Harvard Law School in 1988, was elected the first African–American editor of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated magna cum laude in 1991.

Won two Grammys for Best Spoken Word Albums for an autobiography in 1995 “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” and his second book, “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream,” published in October 2006.

Mother Ann Dunham died of ovarian cancer in 1995. Father Barack Obama Sr. was killed in a car wreck in 1982.

Spent four years in his stepfather’s native country of Indonesia.

Is the fifth African-American senator in U.S. history

Is the first presidential candidate to come from Hawaii.

Favorite movies: “The Godfather” (Parts I and II) and “Lawrence of Arabia.”

In his early years he was known as Barry.

According to his memoirs, he admitted using alcohol, marijuana and cocaine in his youth.

His first name comes from the word that means “blessed by God” in Arabic.

At his wife’s suggestion, he quit smoking before his campaign to win the Democratic nomination began.

Holds both American and Kenyan (since 1963) citizenship.

Named one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” list in 2005 and 2007.

Chosen as one of “10 people would change the world” by New Statesman magazine (2005).

Source: biography.com , Internet Movie Database, Atlanta Journal Constitution
A:
No. He held both U.S. and Kenyan citizenship as a child, but lost his Kenyan citizenship automatically on his 21st birthday.

The Rocky Mountain News did in fact run an online article asserting that Barack Obama holds both American and Kenyan citizenship. The article was incorrect, and the paper removed the item from the article and ran a correction. The paper's editor, John Temple, formally apologized for the error in an Aug. 15, 2007, column. Neither the correction nor the apology has prevented the column from circulating across the Internet as part of the latest set of baseless rumors that Obama is ineligible to run for president.

There was a grain of truth to what the Rocky Mountain News reported, though understanding why requires a brief history lesson.

When Barack Obama Jr. was born on Aug. 4,1961, in Honolulu, Kenya was a British colony, still part of the United Kingdom's dwindling empire. As a Kenyan native, Barack Obama Sr. was a British subject whose citizenship status was governed by The British Nationality Act of 1948. That same act governed the status of Obama Sr.'s children:

British Nationality Act of 1948 (Part II, Section 5): Subject to the provisions of this section, a person born after the commencement of this Act shall be a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent if his father is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies at the time of the birth.

In other words, at the time of his birth, Barack Obama Jr. was both a U.S. citizen (by virtue of being born in Hawaii) and a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (or the UKC) by virtue of being born to a father who was a citizen of the UKC.

Obama's British citizenship was short-lived. On Dec. 12, 1963, Kenya formally gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Chapter VI, Section 87 of the Kenyan Constitution specifies that:

1. Every person who, having been born in Kenya, is on 11th December, 1963 a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies or a British protected person shall become a citizen of Kenya on 12th December, 1963...

2. Every person who, having been born outside Kenya, is on 11th December, 1963 a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies or a British protected person shall, if his father becomes, or would but for his death have become, a citizen of Kenya by virtue of subsection (1), become a citizen of Kenya on 12th December, 1963.

As a citizen of the UKC who was born in Kenya, Obama's father automatically received Kenyan citizenship via subsection (1). So given that Obama qualified for citizen of the UKC status at birth and given that Obama's father became a Kenyan citizen via subsection (1), it follows that Obama did in fact have Kenyan citizenship after 1963. So The Rocky Mountain News was at least partially correct.

But the paper failed to note that the Kenyan Constitution prohibits dual citizenship for adults. Kenya recognizes dual citizenship for children, but Kenya's Constitution specifies that at age 21, Kenyan citizens who possesses citizenship in more than one country automatically lose their Kenyan citizenship unless they formally renounce any non-Kenyan citizenship and swear an oath of allegiance to Kenya.

Since Sen. Obama has neither renounced his U.S. citizenship nor sworn an oath of allegiance to Kenya, his Kenyan citizenship automatically expired on Aug. 4,1982. 

- Joe Miller

Sources

Rocky Mountain News Staff. "Things You Might Not Know About Barack Obama." 6 August 2007. The Rocky Mountain News. 24 August 2008.

Temple, John. "8-word Gaffe Ripples Across Web." 15 August 2007. The Rocky Mountain News. 24 August 2008.


The British Nationality Act, 1948. 1948. 24 August 2008.

"The Constitution of Kenya." 1963 (revised, 2001). The Parliament of Kenya. 24 August 2008.