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Ben Carson planning Kenya visit to trace his ‘Turkana’ roots

Wednesday December 9 2015

Republican Presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015. PHOTO | SAUL LOEB | AFP

Republican Presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks during the 2016 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum in Washington, DC, December 3, 2015. PHOTO | SAUL LOEB | AFP 

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An African American presidential contender is coming to Kenya, supposedly to find his roots.

Dr Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and author, said he will be tracing his ancestry, which he claimed was in Kenya and Tanzania, when he makes the trip.

The announcement is reminiscent of a similar trip by then Senator Barack Obama in 2006, shortly before he sought and won the Democratic party nomination.

Dr Carson, one of the main contenders for the Republican party nomination, is a right wing politician strongly critical of Mr Obama. He will be here before the end of the month.

Dr Carson, the former director of paediatric neurosurgery at a prestigious US hospital is scheduled to spend a week from December 27 in Africa, touring Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.

When President Obama, then a senator, arrived in 2006, he visited his relatives in Kogelo, Siaya County.

The then Illinois Senator gave a speech at the University of Nairobi where he spoke on corruption and had an HIV test.

While Obama’s father was Kenyan, Dr Carson’s claim to Kenyan ancestry is a lot more problematic.

“My ancestors are from the Kenya-Tanzania region, the Turkana tribe,” Dr Carson told a US journalist. “I’ve had all of that traced back,” he told Hugh Hewitt, an American radio talk-show host.

The Turkana live in northern Kenya, almost 1,000 kilometres from the Tanzanian border.

The Turkana do not live in Tanzania, although some or their close relatives are to be found in Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Dr Carson is a descendant of African slaves in America, many who came from West Africa.


Slaves from East Africa were castrated and sold in Arabia as eunuchs and did not sire descendants.

Dr Carson has a slim chance of being elected president. His once strong support has slipped from 22 per cent in October to 14 per cent in a survey released last week.

The polls, though, show that he is still third among the 13 politicians seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

He trails businessman Donald Trump, who registered 36 per cent in the same poll, and Senator Ted Cruz, who stood at 16 per cent.

His critics have cited his poor knowledge of foreign policy as the reason for the slump.

He has confused the membership of the military alliance NATO where he said Baltic countries should join and has claimed that China has military establishments on the ground in Syria, fighting Isis.

And in a speech to a US Jewish group last week, he mispronounced the name of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, calling it “hummus,” which is what a dip made of chickpeas is called.

Baltic countries are already members of NATO and the Chinese deny having a military presence on the ground.

He spent his life as a surgeon. But some of his opponents have foreign policy experience as politicians serving on various committees on foreign policy or national security.

When the confusion over Syria arose last month, he visited a refugee camp in Jordan where he claimed to seek “first-hand information”.

This is also the basis of his Africa trip where he is looking to get “unfiltered” information.

Dr Carson, 64, acknowledged on Monday that his lack of international policy experience may account for his drop in voter surveys.

His planned trip to Africa is being seen as part of an effort to assuage doubts about his ability to lead the US on the world stage.

His claim that the Turkana people occupy “the Kenya-Tanzania region” appears to be another instance of confusion on Dr Carson’s part.

Dr Carson said on Monday that in Nigeria he intends to assess the nation’s economy and the threat it faces from Boko Haram.

He is choosing to visit Zambia, Dr Carson said, because it is the homeland of conjoined twins, Joseph and Luka Banda, whom he and his team of surgeons successfully separated in 1997.