US President Barack Obama arrived last night on the first visit of a United States President to Kenya, his father’s homeland.
He first visited Kenya 29 years ago in 1987. Since then, he has returned both as a private citizen and a newly minted US Senator.
The flight from Washington, DC, to Nairobi took 16 hours, including a two-hour layover in Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
Obama, who is in the country for the Sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit, is accompanied by US government officials led by White House Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Ten lawmakers are flying with Obama on Air Force One, including nine Democrats and one Republican, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.
On the return flight to the United States, a second group of 10 Democratic representatives will join Obama, the White House said.
Today, Obama will address the Summit, along with co-host Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, at UN headquarters in Gigiri.
Obama then holds talks with the Kenyan government led by President Uhuru.
Before leaving the US, Obama spoke to the BBC and outlined the agenda for his fourth Africa trip that will include Ethiopia.
Obama said he will be “blunt” with the Kenyan leadership on security, corruption, governance and democracy.
“I think it is important first of all that the president of the United States underscores our commitment to partnering with countries around the world, even though we’re not intimidated by terrorist organisations. Second, the counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and Kenya — and Uganda and other countries in East Africa — is very strong,” Obama said.
He was asked about Deputy President William Ruto’s comments that the US allows “gay relations and other dirty things”.
“Well, I disagree with him (Ruto) on that, don’t I? (In Senegal) I was very blunt about my belief that everybody deserves fair treatment, equal treatment in the eyes of the law and the state. And as somebody who has family in Kenya and knows the history of how the country so often is held back because women and girls are not treated fairly, I think those same values apply when it comes to different sexual orientations,” Obama said.
Ruto has been speaking out against homosexuality in advance of the Obama visit and criticising the recent US Supreme Court ruling legalising same-sex marriage.
On Monday, President Uhuru told a press conference at State House that homosexuality was a non-issue and would not be discussed with Obama.
The US president also outlined his expectations of the entrepreneurship summit, the first to be held in sub-Saharan Africa.
“So I’ll be the first US president to not only visit Kenya and Ethiopia, but also to address the continent as a whole, building on the African summit that we did here which was historic and has, I think, deepened the kinds of already strong relationships that we have across the continent,” Obama told the BBC.
Obama said there is a link between security and entrepreneurship, adding that business opportunities give people a sense of control of their own destiny and are less vulnerable to propaganda and “twisted ideologies”.
“The more we can encourage entrepreneurship, particularly for young people, the more they have hope. Now that requires some reforms in these governments that we continue to emphasise,” Obama said.
Achieving that will require reforms in governments, he said.
He added: “Rooting out corruption, increased transparency and how government operates, making sure that regulations are not designed just to advantage elites, but are allowing people who have a good idea to get out there and get things done.”
Obama said China’s presence in Africa is aimed at acquiring raw materials and its investment results from its huge surplus in global trade.
“… and [because of the] fact that they’re not accountable to their constituencies, [they] have been able to funnel an awful lot of money into Africa, basically in exchange for raw materials that are being extracted from Africa,” Obama said.
He added; “We welcome Chinese aid into Africa. We think that’s a good thing. We don’t want to discourage it. As I’ve said before, what I also want to make sure though is that trade is benefiting the ordinary Kenyan and the ordinary Ethiopian and the ordinary Guinean and not just a few elites.”