Barack Obama visits Kenya, land of his father, to promote local charity

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) greeting former US president Barack Obama at the State House in Nairobi on July 15, 2018.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) greeting former US president Barack Obama at the State House in Nairobi on July 15, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

NAIROBI (NYTIMES) - Former US president Barack Obama has arrived in Kenya, his father's home country, in what was expected to be a lower-profile visit than the ones he made to the country as senator and president.

Mr Obama travelled to Kenya on Sunday (July 15) to promote the opening of a sports and training centre that his half-sister, Ms Auma Obama, founded through her charitable foundation, The Associated Press reported.

In a Twitter post on Sunday night, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya showed photos of himself meeting a tieless Obama in Nairobi, the capital.

"It was a great pleasure to welcome you back," he wrote in welcoming Mr Obama.

In another Twitter post, sent from the official presidential account, Mr Kenyatta said he and his deputy had "had a refreshing chat" with the former American president and his half-sister.

https://twitter.com/PresidentKE/status/1018604512871927809

Ms Auma Obama grew up in Kenya and returned there, after living in Germany and the United Kingdom, to work for the charity CARE International, according to a brief biography posted on the website of her foundation, Sauti Kuu. Her work at CARE focused partly on familiarising girls with sports as a vehicle for social empowerment.

Sauti Kuu, based in Nairobi, serves children and young people, particularly from urban slums and rural communities. According to the foundation's website, its new sports and training centre is in Alego, apparently the same village where Mr Barack Obama has said that his Kenyan family is from.

Kenya has always loomed large in the personal narrative of the former president, the son of a black university student from the country, whom he met only once, and a white anthropologist originally from Kansas. He first visited Kenya in 1987, sleeping for several weeks on his half-sister's sofa, and later described the trip in his first book, Dreams From My Father.

Mr Barack Obama returned to Kenya as a senator in 2006 and again as president in 2015 to rapturous receptions. Many in the country celebrate him as a son of Africa who reached the pinnacle of power.

In a Twitter post last week, Mr Obama described Africa as "a continent of wonderful diversity, thriving culture, and remarkable stories". But Kenya is also tied up in a conspiracy theory, fanned by President Donald Trump for years before he entered politics, that Mr Obama had actually been born there and was therefore ineligible to be president. Mr Obama dispelled that false claim in 2011 by publicly showing his US birth certificate, but Mr Trump did not abandon it until 2016.

Mr Obama is in Kenya at a delicate political moment - about four months after Mr Kenyatta and his top political rival, the opposition leader Raila Odinga, held a surprise meeting and promised a new focus on national unity after months of escalating tensions. The AP reported that Mr Obama was expected to meet Mr Odinga during his trip.

Mr Obama is also expected to visit Kogelo, his father's home village, AP said. That had not been possible in 2015 because of security and logistical concerns.

Before his 2015 trip to Kenya, Mr Obama told reporters that he looked forward to the visit and saw it as symbolically important. But he also acknowledged that visiting the country as a private citizen "is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president, because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference center."