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Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 12:47 GMT
Never mind Barack, here's Britain's Mr Obama
By John Hand
BBC News

London's Mr and Mrs Obama
Fernando Obama and his "first lady" Purificacio Tuku
It's well known that American presidential hopeful Barack Obama has family in the UK. But the only known "Obama" in Britain is no relation - although he feels a growing kinship with his namesake.

Tuesday, 5 February is widely seen as make or break day for Barack Obama's hopes of reaching the White House. Known as "super Tuesday" it's when 24 US states get to choose their Democratic party presidential candidate.

Meanwhile in south west London, Fernando Obama is hoping that will be the day he will be back in employment. Jobless since returning from a post-Christmas holiday in his native Equatorial Guinea, he has been busy with his own campaign - to find work.

I love him. Every time I see him I feel something in my skin.
Fernando Obama on Barack Obama
Fernando and his family in the Clapham area of London are, according to the edited electoral register, Britain's only namesakes of the man who could be installed in the White House within 12 months - and Fernando says he has become a big supporter of the "other Mr Obama".

Recalling the day he first became aware of the rising star of American politics, he says he "saw the name 'Obama' in big writing in a newspaper. I thought 'who is this man with my name?'.

"I called my wife and told her there was an Obama in the news and she sighed and asked if it was for something bad.

"From that day on, I started looking out for him on the news on TV and following the stories about him. Now I have to say I love him. Every time I see him I feel something in my skin. I say this is a great man who is going to be my brother."

Fernando Obama
Born: Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, 22 December 1959
Career: restaurant staff, market trader, biscuit factory worker, now seeking work
Married: 1995 to Purificacio Tuku
Family: One son - Michael, 20.
View on Iraq war: backed attacks based on US and UK intelligence at the time
Hero: Jerry Springer

While Barack's Kenyan heritage has been well chronicled, Fernando's family originated from the other side of Africa.

The 48-year-old grew up in the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea, which achieved independence in 1968. Fernando says the years that followed were bleak for a young boy with an eye on the world.

But life changed for the better when, aged 21, he moved to Spain and served in the army for nearly four years.

"I was a guy who liked to play football, to drink with friends, to enjoy myself in clubs, to chase women. I miss those days sometimes. I think about those days and start to cry.

"When I first went into civilian life I could see my life had changed - nothing was looking better. I needed another road. It took a few years but eventually I realised I could go to England to find my new life."

Since moving to London in 1999 Fernando has worked in a variety of jobs: in restaurants; as a market trader; as a doorman and most recently in a biscuit factory.

But it is "getting much harder. There are a lot of Polish people who have come to England and there are many people competing for every job. But I keep taking that walk to the job centre."

But even when times have been tough, Fernando says Britain has been a good home to him and his family.

"When I have lost my job, the government helps me. The system in this country is good to its people. I am sad when people take advantage of it."

Barack Obama
Born: Honolulu, Hawaii, 4 August 1961
Career: Community organiser, university lecturer, civil rights lawyer, senator, seeking election as US president
Married: Michelle Robinson in 1992
Family: daughters Malia Ann and Natasha
View on Iraq war: opposed it from the outset
Hero: Abraham Lincoln

While Barack's wife Michelle is credited as a huge asset in his campaign to win over American voters, Fernando has his own "first lady" - wife Purificacio Tuku.

They met in Valencia just after Fernando left the army, when he spotted her playing basketball on a local court and was told she also came from his homeland. "She saw me and ran over and handed me a key for her locker and asked me to look after it while she played. That gave me a good reason to stay until the end of the match and to give her my number and my address."

Purificacio's father disapproved of the relationship because the young couple originated from different parts of Equatorial Guinea.

"There is a split in my country between people from the island and from the continent [mainland]. Her father threatened that he would never speak to her again. But one day she said 'I don't care, I like you'. We were together from then on."

The couple have one son, 20-year-old student Michael, who, prophetically perhaps, Fernando used to call "Mr President" as he was growing up, because he hoped that he might one day return to lead Equatorial Guinea.

"Family life is great. My wife is a beautiful woman. She has a good heart, she doesn't worry me and I do not worry her," says Fernando.

While he is following the American elections with interest, Fernando admits he has never taken a huge interest in political issues in this country.

His stepmother Kezia, the first wife of the senator's Kenyan-born father, now lives in Bracknell, Berks
Half-sister Auma married Englishman Ian Manners in 1997
Barack flew over for the wedding and attended the stag night pub crawl around Wokingham

His hero, Barack Obama aside, is a former American politician better known for the career he built after being mayor of Cincinnati. "I love Jerry Springer," he says. "I always watch his show. He is so funny but always in control. He asks the questions that can wind the situation up a bit more."

Fernando expects to be watching every twist and turn of the American election, as long as the other Obama remains in the race. "I always thought it would be impossible for a black man to be elected president of America. Now I just think it will be difficult."

But an Obama in the White House would bring even more interest in his "brother" from London.

"Already when people see my name, they give me a second look to see if there is any likeness. I go to the gym and people ask if I know him. I wish I did," says Fernando. "When I go to the pub and use my card to pay, there are a lot of questions about my name but I haven't had a free beer yet."

And if November's election sends America's Obama family to Pennsylvania Avenue, Fernando says he intends to fulfil an ambition to visit the US. "I would have to go to Washington," he says, "to look at the White House for myself."


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