On March 30, 2015, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would visit Kenya to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, co-hosted by Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta. The summit’s objective was to raise economic empowerment among women and youth, and was expected to attract several prominent business leaders. During the three-day visit, Obama also aimed to cement ties between the US and Kenya, and to address several issues integral to Kenya’s growth and development such as terrorism and corruption.
President Obama visited the US embassy in Nairobi, the United Nations, and State House. Perhaps the most prevalent question surrounding Obama’s visit to Kenya was whether or not he would visit his ancestral town, Kogelo, and his paternal step-grandmother, commonly known as Mama Sarah. Due to time constraints, a Kogelo visit was not a part of the short trip’s agenda. Instead, Obama referenced tradition and heritage in others way. On July 26, the Kenyan-American president addressed the Kenyan public at Kasarani Stadium, where he spoke about the value of resisting traditions that hold Kenya back, including prejudice against women. Following his stay in Kenya, he flew to Ethiopia.
Despite having visited Kenya on three other occasions, this recent trips marks Obama’s first visit to Kenya as president. The excitement surrounding his arrival centered on Obama’s Kenyan heritage, with the visit popularly billed as a “homecoming.” Few US political visits had been anticipated as much as this one. As a result, the Kenyan government undertook several beautification projects in the months preceding his arrival, including road repairs and planting of trees and flowers. However, not everyone was excited to see POTUS. Several anti-gay groups expressed disgruntlement with Obama’s support for gay pride, especially after the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Homosexuality has long been a debated issue in Kenya, with many calling it “unnatural” and “un-African.”
Due to the number of grisly Al-Shabaab attacks during recent years (including the attack on the Westgate Mall in 2013, as touched on by Ayiba), the US government has issued travel advisories for Kenya. During the visit, the US and Kenyan governments implemented strong security measures, including shutting down Kenya’s airspace before Obama’s arrival and blocking off major roads during his stay. Controversies during the visit included an alleged leak of President Obama’s itinerary, and an ill-advised CNN report describing Kenya as a “hotbed of terror.” The CNN report sparked signifiant backlash as Kenyans used the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN to decry the practice of stereotyping African countries as unsafe. Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery also demanded an apology from CNN.
Obama’s visit drew to ongoing entrepreneurial growth and global partnership for development across Africa. It also raised the question of the evolution of the relationship between the US and Kenya, especially in light of the recent debate on LGBT rights on the continent and the War on Terror.