Obama begins landmark Kenya visit

  • 25/07/2015
US President Barack Obama waves in Kenya as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta looks on (Reuters)
US President Barack Obama waves in Kenya as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta looks on (Reuters)

US President Barack Obama has started a four-day visit to East Africa by dining in Nairobi with his Kenyan-born father's relatives.

While his substantive agenda in Kenya and Ethiopia includes terrorism, economic recovery and human rights, family came first in a meeting with dozens of Obama's relations.

The matriarch of the Kenyan family, Obama's step-grandmother, Sarah Obama, arrived on Friday evening with daughter Masart Obama and a handcrafted, wooden stool as a present for her grandson.

The second wife of Barack Obama's grandfather, she came from the family's home village, Kogelo, where his father is buried.

The president sat at the family dinner between Sarah and his half-sister, Auma Obama, who had earlier greeted him at the airport along with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and other officials.

It is Obama's first visit to Kenya and Ethiopia since he became the first African-American president in 2009, but his fourth visit to the continent.

Sarah Obama invited him to visit Kogelo, but the White House said his schedule left no room for the family village.

Obama landed in Nairobi after a 17-hour flight with a refuelling stop at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany.

On the 20-minute drive from the airport to his hotel, Obama was greeted by hundreds of spectators who lined the road, cheering and waving the red-white-and-blue flag of the United States.

Obama was scheduled to address the Global Entrepreneurs Summit on Saturday, as well as to hold talks with Kenyatta, who is hosting a state dinner.

White House advisers Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes as well as spokesman Josh Earnest and some 20 senators and political representatives are accompanying the president.

Obama's visit is framed to relaunch US-Kenyan relations after Washington was widely understood to have opposed Kenyatta's candidacy in 2013 because of charges he was facing at the International Criminal Court over 2007 post-election violence.

Kenyatta won the election, and the charges against him were dropped in December.

Obama is due to deliver a public speech on Sunday to focus on his personal relationship with his father's home country.

About 10,000 police are being deployed in Nairobi, according to local media reports. The US Navy is on standby in the Indian Ocean, while the airspace is being heavily monitored by the US military.

Kenya and the US are especially concerned about possible attacks by group al-Shabaab, which has targeted Kenya for terrorism in retaliation for Nairobi's military support to the Somali government against the Islamist group.

Obama is scheduled to continue Sunday night to Addis Ababa, where he is to meet Monday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.