US President Barrack Obama has lauded Kenya’s achievements but warned that corruption, terrorism and lack of inclusivity threaten the country’s future.
He challenged President Uhuru Kenyatta that, over and above success in political stability, his administration must deepen democracy, tackle graft and end exclusion based on gender or ethnicity.
Obama was speaking at the Kasarani Indoor Arena, delivering the keynote speech of his visit to Kenya.
He said that his father’s homeland had “come so far in just my lifetime”, but warned of a large-scale stirring up of tribal bigotry.
He added that Kenya has made tremendous progress in strengthening democratic and governance institutions and spurring development to provide equal opportunities.
“A politics that is based on only tribe and ethnicity is doomed to tear a country apart. It is a failure – a failure of imagination,” he said.
“Kenya is at a crossroads, a moment filled with peril but enormous promise,” he said to a blend of laughter and applause from the audience.
The lecture was attended by many dignitaries and ordinary Kenyans, including Deputy President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
On corruption, Obama said the money spent on bribes could be better utilised by paying Kenyans “doing an honest day’s work”.
“But the fact is that often here in Kenya, as is true in other places, corruption is tolerated because that is how things have always been done. People just think that this is the normal state of affairs,” Obama said.
Saying corruption remains a problem and a major threat to the potential of most African countries, the US president maintained he will continue talking about it wherever he goes.
Warning that the ‘cancer’ of corruption was costing the country 250,000 jobs a year, Obama said it is not unique to Kenya and requires enhanced participation by civil society, citizens and government to wipe it out.
He added that NGOs have to be allowed to operate to shed a spotlight on what needs to change and agitate for far-reaching reforms that can “deliver the country to horizons of promise.”
Warning against restrictions that deny civil society the space that he said gives a voice to citizens, he said: “There is no country that is free from corruption. I speak about it wherever I go, not just here in Kenya. It is just that here everybody gets too sensitive.”
Referring to the 2007/08 post-election violence, Obama praised Kenya for emerging from its worst crisis, which almost brought the country to its knees.
He said as in the US and many other counties across the world, economic growth is not broadly shared among all classes of people because “some times people at the top do very well while ordinary people still struggle.”
“Today a young child in Nyanza province is four times likely to die than a child in Central province, even though they are equal in dignity in the eyes of God. That is a gap that has to be closed,” Obama said.
He warned that a girl in Rift Valley is far less likely to attend secondary school than a girl in Nairobi because of the widespread inequalities that bedevil Kenyans.
Speaking of Kenya’s challenge in dealing with terror attacks by the al Shabaab militant group, Obama promised the US would stand by Kenya, “shoulder to shoulder with you as long as it takes as a partner.”
Obama offered extra counterterrorism training and funds to step up the war on terror on Saturday, during bilateral talks with President Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi.
Obama, whose father was Kenyan and is buried in Kogelo, Siaya county, wants to boost business ties with Africa, one of the world’s fastest-growing regions.
And he condemned female genital mutilation and forced marriage, which he said did not belong in the 21st Century, adding that the best use of development aid was to spend it on girls’ education.