Kenya visit triggers Obama mania

US President Barack Obama, seated between his step-grandma Mama Sarah (left) and half-sister Auma Obama, at a dinner with about three dozen relatives at his hotel in Nairobi, Kenya on Friday.
US President Barack Obama, seated between his step-grandma Mama Sarah (left) and half-sister Auma Obama, at a dinner with about three dozen relatives at his hotel in Nairobi, Kenya on Friday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Obama's visit to his father's homeland is first by a sitting American president

NAIROBI • Kenyan media was awash with coverage of United States President Barack Obama's first visit to his father's homeland, with the President pictured waving on one front page with the headline "Kenya Here I Am".

Hours after he landed in Nairobi, on the first leg of a two-country Africa tour, large chunks of all the major newspapers and long stretches of television programming were devoted to coverage of Mr Obama's visit yesterday.

He is the first sitting American president to visit Kenya.

In the dark, crowds had gathered along the road from the airport to the city centre to cheer as the US presidential motorcade passed by on Friday. His Kenyan half-sister, Ms Auma Obama, accompanied him in his armoured limousine, nicknamed "The Beast".

The US leader was later joined for dinner by about three dozen relatives at his hotel which, according to the White House, was not on the official schedule.

Giving his first public address yesterday morning at the opening of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Mr Obama called on African leaders to embrace women and youth entrepreneurs as well as anti-corruption initiatives.

He also asked American investors to reward those efforts, as he announced more than US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in new private and US government commitments for start-ups.

"I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move," Mr Obama told the conference, where he was greeted by applause when he began with the word "jambo", which is Swahili for "hello".

"This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth, not just African growth," he said.

Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa and a technology hub. However, it has been hit by a spate of attacks by Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab.

Two years ago the Islamists' assault on the Westgate shopping mall in the heart of the capital left 67 dead, while in April they massacred 147 people in a northern Kenyan university. The mall reopened last week.

At a press conference before Mr Obama and his counterpart, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, held closed-door talks, the US leader said the two countries must work together more closely to combat the Al-Shabaab. This included increased intelligence sharing.

Although security was expected to top the agenda in the talks, Mr Obama is also keen to increase business ties with Africa, as China overtook the US as the continent's biggest trade partner in 2009.

"Africa is open for business," Mr Kenyatta said in his opening address, in which he welcomed the US President.

"It is the time for a new generation of Africans to promote inclusive prosperity."

Today, Mr Obama will meet members of Kenya's civil society, who have complained of growing restrictions in the country.

He last visited Kenya in 2006, when he was a junior US senator from Illinois.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Kenya visit triggers Obama mania'. Print Edition | Subscribe