From the Romans on, wise men, including American humorist Mark Twain and French humanist Michel de Montaigne, have advised: Don't lie unless you have a good memory. This could be updated for conspiracy theorists this way: Don't spout theories of conspiracy unless you have the mind of an historian. Take note, Donald Trump.
Now back to Aug. 4, 1961 and the birth of Barack Hussein Obama in a faraway place, Kenya Colony in East Africa. It is a part of the British Empire that knows that its days as a playground for the English upper class — and often aristocratic playboys and playgirls – is limited. A year and a half earlier, their life in the sun was challenged and the future revealed when Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told the South African parliament on Feb. 3 that “winds of change” were blowing through Africa.
The settlers on the famous “White Highlands” of Kenya Colony had survived the scandals of the 1930s and early 1940s, when the lover of a particularly beautiful woman, Lady Diana Broughton, was believed to have been murdered by her husband, Sir John Broughton, 30 years her senior. The murder of Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll, took the cover off the aristocrats cavorting in Happy Valley and the famous Muthaiga Club in the capital, Nairobi.
Back in England, where the dark days of World War II were raging, the fun-in-the-sun frolickers were pilloried as a dissolute lot with servants, booze, drugs and a penchant for wife-swapping.
In the 1950s, the brutal Mau Mau uprising by Kenya's Kikuyu led to a loss of faith in the future in all of colonial Africa, including Southern Rhodesia, another British colony with a small white population. Unlike Kenya, which was governed from London, Southern Rhodesia had a greater degree of self- government and was less a playground for wild exiles.
The tone of life in Kenya was summed up by the title of a book about the colony's most famous murder, “White Mischief,” later a movie. Anyway by the time Obama was born, things in Kenya were getting tense.
So in this environment of racial sensitivity, imagine a white American giving birth to a child fathered by an African. The local newspaper, The East African Standard, would have been aghast. Blimpy club men would have sputtered over their Scotch and sodas and their wives would have spilled their tea and moved forward the hour for their evening cocktails, known as sundowners.
The settlers in Kenya may have lived fast but, as in Southern Rhodesia, no issue was more sensitive than white women and black men. In 1957 there was a celebrated case in Southern Rhodesia of a black man, Patrick Matimba, who, while studying in England, had married a white woman from the Netherlands and took her to live in his homeland. The white Southern Rhodesians were enraged. While there might have been many white men who were coupling with black women, the reverse was not tolerated. It terrified the settlers.
Uncomfortably the Matimbas set up house in the only place that they were allowed to, church property in the farming hamlet of Rusape. When Mrs. Matimba suffered a miscarriage, her husband could not visit her in the local white hospital. Around this time a white widow, Mrs. Fletcher Lowe, who had an affair with her African servant, was imprisoned. I covered both stories and knew the players well.
So to those of us who grew up in colonial Africa, it is inconceivable that Obama's mother gave birth to him in Nairobi and that his step-grandmother watched the birth.
More intriguing is how birthers believe that not one but two birth notices were placed in Honolulu newspapers within nine days of Obama's birth. How could that be done without credit cards; the Internet; or in the probability that outside of the American Embassy, not too many people in Kenya knew anything about Hawaii? After all, Hawaii had only been a state for two years and the people of Kenya had other things on their minds, let alone how to post birth notices across two oceans.
No, Donald Trump. The kind of disinformation pedaled by the birthers had a name in Kenya: white mischief. – For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate