Obama visit to Kenya

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The US President Barack Obama made a quick visit to Kenya and Ethiopia in July 2015. Especially in Kenya Obama’s “homecoming” was much anticipated, since his father Barack Obama (senior) hails from Nyanza region in Kenya, and as such President Obama has number of half siblings and other relatives still living in Kenya. Some Kenyans have felt disappointed and even ashamed that Obama did not visit the country earlier during his presidency, skipping the country during his previous African visits. While finally landing Kenya, he would stay in the capital Nairobi, even though many hoped Obama would visit Kogelo, his paternal home village. Preparations were well underway to host Obama in the village, despite he never indicated visiting there.

Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi
Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi

Obama visit had a wild reception by Kenyan social media. The hashtag #KideroGrass, named after Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero, was trending once grass planted by Nairobi beautification project ahead of Obama’s visit failed to grow. Also trending was #SomeoneTellCNN, after the news channel called Kenya “hotbed of terrorism”, a rather strongly worded statement. Interestingly, the Kenyan government was at the same time running an advertising campaign on CNN promoting Kenya as a tourist destination. On a more positive note was a video showing Obama dancing to “Sura Yako”, a hugely popular song by Kenyan band Sauti Sol.

Before Obama’s visit concerns were raised that the main purpose of his visit would be to lecture Kenyans on gay rights, this especially after the recent US court ruling favouring gay marriages. Kenyan speaker of Parliament Justin Muturi went as far as “banning” Obama raising his pro-gay views in front of the Kenyan parliament. Obama did eventually mention his views there, even if it was not the highlight of the speech. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta downplayed the issue saying Kenya has bigger issues to deal with, but said most Kenyans have differing views on homosexuality than people in western countries. While President Kenyatta has never publicly revealed his stance on gay issues, his Deputy William Ruto has repeatedly expressed strong anti-gay views.

Obama trip to Kenya went without hitches, albeit the bomb blast at a hotel in Somali capital Mogadishu may be related to Obama’s visiting neighboring countries. While most Kenyans are happy that Obama finally paid a visit to Kenya, but after all the preparations and massive security operations they probably agree now that maybe it is better he does not visit the country more often.

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