Obama challenges Kenya on gay rights

  • 26/07/2015
US President Barack Obama urged Kenya to rethink its stance on gay marriage (Reuters)
US President Barack Obama urged Kenya to rethink its stance on gay marriage (Reuters)

US President Barack Obama has given Kenya a firm message on gay rights and corruption.

In a joint press conference after bilateral talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Obama compared homophobia - on the rise across Africa - to racial discrimination he had encountered in the US.

After pledging stronger business ties and aid for entrepreneurs, he also called for firm action on endemic corruption, calling it "the single biggest impediment to Kenya growing even faster".

Obama arrived in Kenya late on Friday, his first visit as president to his father's birthplace and the first to the East African nation by a serving US leader.

On Sunday the president is due to give a keynote address to the country, and meet with members of Kenya's vibrant civil society - bearing the brunt of what they say are increased restrictions as Kenya fights its own 'war on terror'.

He leaves later on Sunday for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where he will also be the first US leader to address the African Union.

On gay rights, he said his position has been "consistent all across Africa on this: When you start treating people differently, because they're different, that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode. And bad things happen."

"As an African-American in the United States I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently under the law. I am unequivocal on this," Obama told a joint news conference, openly disagreeing with Kenyatta.

Kenyatta replied by repeating the view that gay rights were unacceptable to Kenyans and therefore "a non-issue".

Obama also laid a wreath at the memorial site of the former US embassy destroyed in an al-Qaeda attack in 1998, standing in silence in memory of the 224 killed in the twin bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania.

He wrapped up the evening with a state dinner with Kenyatta, with the atmosphere lively and friendly.