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Obama says ‘Africa on the move’ in landmark Kenya visit

By AFP - Jul 25,2015 - Last updated at Jul 25,2015

Crowds of Kenyans gather at Kamukunji Grounds in Kibera, Nairobi, on Friday to celebrate the visit by US President Barack Obama. Obama, whose father Barack Obama Senior was born in Kenya in 1936, has a large following amongst Kenyan citizens because of his family lineage (AFP photo)

NAIROBI — US President Barack Obama declared Saturday that "Africa is on the move", praising the spirit of entrepreneurship at a business summit on landmark visit to Kenya.

Obama arrived in Kenya late on Friday, making his first visit to the country of his father's birth since he was elected president.

"I wanted to be here, because Africa is on the move, Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world," Obama said, drawing cheers and applause from delegates.

"People are being lifted out of poverty, incomes are up, the middle class is growing and young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business," Obama said in his first official engagement in Nairobi.

The US embassy itself warned the summit could be "a target for terrorists", but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, sharing the stage with Obama, said the event showed a different side of Africa.

"The narrative of African despair is false, and indeed was never true," Kenyatta said. "Let them know that Africa is open and ready for business."

In the afternoon Obama was welcomed at State House for talks with Kenya's government. On arrival he shook hands with Deputy President William Ruto, who is on trail at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague accused of crimes against humanity during post-election violence in 2007-08.

Security, trade and human rights were all on the agenda.

A massive security operation was under way in Nairobi Saturday, with parts of the usually traffic-clogged capital locked down and airspace also closed for the president's landing on Friday and his scheduled departure late Sunday for neighbouring Ethiopia.

Top of the list of security concerns is Somalia's Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabab, who have staged a string of suicide attacks, massacres and bombings on Kenyan soil. Two years ago an Al Shabab assault on the Westgate shopping mall in the heart of the Nairobi left 67 dead.

Obama also laid a wreath at the memorial site of the 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.

Massive security operation 

Obama said he was delighted at the trip, which many Kenyans see as a "homecoming".

"It is wonderful to be back in Kenya," Obama said, also greeting the summit with a few words of Swahili. "I'm proud to be the first US president to visit Kenya, and obviously this is personal for me. My father came from these parts."

Barack Obama Sr was a pipe-smoking economist who the US leader has admitted he "never truly" knew. He walked out when Obama was just two and died in a car crash in Nairobi in 1982, aged 46.

Excitement has been building in Kenya for weeks, with the visit seen as a major boost for the east African nation's position as a regional hub — something that has taken a battering in recent years due to Al Shabab attacks and political violence that landed Kenyan leaders in the ICC.

The visit is also the first ever to Kenya by a sitting US president. At least 10,000 police officers have been deployed to the capital.

Kenyatta greeted Obama as he stepped off Air Force One late Friday. The president's half-sister Auma was also on the tarmac to welcome him and travel in the bomb-proof presidential limousine, nicknamed "The Beast", for the drive to the hotel in the city centre, where Obama dined with members of his extended Kenyan family.

Human rights 

on the agenda 

 

Kenya is now the target of frequent Al Shabab attacks, while the country's Muslim-majority regions are facing a major recruitment drive by the militants.

The United States is a key security partner for Kenya, which has troops in Somalia as part of the African Union force, and US drones frequently target Al Shebab fighters — killing the group's previous leader last year.

A presidential visit to Kenya had been put on hold while Kenyatta faced charges of crimes against humanity for his role in the post-election violence. The ICC has since dropped the case, citing a lack of evidence and accusing Kenya of bribing or intimidating witnesses.

Ruto, whose ICC trial continues, is an unapologetic homophobe and has in the past described gays as "dirty".

Asked earlier this week whether gay rights would be discussed, Kenyatta insisted it was "a non-issue", but Obama, in an interview with the BBC, said he was "not a fan of discrimination and bullying" and that this would be "part and parcel of the agenda".

On Sunday Obama will meet with members of Kenya's civil society, who have complained of growing restrictions in the country. He is not scheduled to visit his father's grave in the village of Kogelo in western Kenya and bemoaned the heavy security restrictions earlier this month.

"I will be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president, because I can actually get outside of the hotel room or a conference centre," Obama said.

 

But his visit has already had a lasting impact, with a batch of Kenyan newborn babies named in honour. Two new mothers in western Kenya named their sons after the president's jet, Air Force One.

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