US President Barack Obama left Washington on Thursday evening to arrive to the Kenyan capital, Obama will visit Ethiopia in his four days long visit, making him the first sitting US president to visit East African nations.
Kenya is the birthplace of Obama’s estranged father.
As the first stop for Obama, Nairobi hosts the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which the US president will attend. He will end the African tour in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the African Union (AU) is headquartered.
The US president’s tour will be filled with firsts: first time President Obama travels to Kenya as commander-in-chief, first time a sitting US president will visit Ethiopia, and Obama’s speech before the African Union will also be the very first time a sitting US president addresses AU.
Along with participating in the annual gathering of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and government officials, of which Obama is co-chair, he will meet with African leaders and conduct a number of bilateral meetings and press conferences. He will also address the Kenyan people directly.
The trip will provide President Obama with an opportunity to enhance US’s trade and investment relationships with African nations, request greater human rights protections and transparency in government, and highlight the US’s efforts to increase opportunities for the future generation of Africans.
“This is an opportunity not only to support that Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is something the president is deeply committed to,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice stated to Time magazine.
“But, it’s also an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our relationship to Africa.”
The visit to both Kenya and Ethiopia will also provide an opportunity for US president to discuss countering violent militias like Somali-based al Qaeda affiliated ‘al Shabaab’, which has a stronghold in the region, and the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.
Government leaders along with activists are looking forward to the long awaited talks on counterterror strategies, promoting trade, and providing opportunity during the very first sitting US president’s visit.
Kenyan people see Obama’s visit as an opportunity to welcome home their American brother, a man whose name resonates from villages to city centres and whose picture is seen everywhere.
“They take it really personally,” a coffee shop owner told the Associated Press.
Human Rights activists in Kenya are urging Obama to address some of their serious concerns rather than focusing all efforts on economic issues like trade and investments.
A member of Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights, Jedidah Waruhiu, said in a conference call on Wednesday that she hopes that US President Obama uses his voice to “speak truth to human rights.”
The US President is also expected to speak up on the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Kenya since earlier this week, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called LGBT rights a “non-issue” that’s “not on our agenda at all.”
“We as a country, as a continent, are faced with much more issues which we would want to engage the US and all our partners with,” Kenyatta stated.
Rice hinted Wednesday that if the LGBT issue was asked to be addressed in Kenya, then Obama will speak openly. “This is not something that we think is a topic we reserve for certain parts of the world and not others,” Rice stated.
“We always—not just in Africa, but around the world—when we are traveling to countries where we have concerns about the rule of law, human rights, corruption, whatever…we make those concerns known publicly and privately,” she added.
LGBT rights issue, Waruhiu said, is “emotive” in Kenya and activists worry about potential backlash if Obama focuses too much on the matter.
“However much he feels strongly about this issue—this is an issue that will cloud other important issues like security and trade in the country, because any other good thing he says or does in the country will be whitewashed with the whole issue of LGBTI issues,” Waruhiu added.