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 23, 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. 4,1984.
Corrected (Sep. 3, 2009): Our original article incorrectly stated that then-Sen. Obama lost his Kenyan citizenship on Aug. 4, 1982. The correct date is Aug. 4, 1984. The Kenyan Constitution required Obama to choose whether to keep either his U.S. or Kenyan citizenship upon his 21st birthday, which was in 1982. But we initially missed that the Constitution provided him a two-year window for making that choice. So Obama did not lose his Kenyan citizenship until his 23rd birthday in 1984. We have updated the item to reflect this.
- Joe Miller