Although it was not his first trip to Kenya, Barack Obama’s visit was the first ever by a sitting U.S. president. From freestyling on the dancefloor to speaking on serious political and social issues, Obama’s trip was certainly a highlight for the nation, which considers him a long-lost son. Emphasizing his place in history as the first African-American president, Obama went one step further, declaring himself to the masses as a “Kenyan-American” president who takes pride in his ancestral heritage.
The visit was very different from the one he made as a young man, however. This time, Obama was surrounded by the security bubble that comes with the office of Presidency, so Kenyans that clamored to be close to him were kept at a distance. Despite his personal ties to the nation, the trip retained a practical and professional air.
Nevertheless, Obama’s family connections to the nation proved useful in adding sincerity and poignancy to the political messages that he delivered to large, receptive Kenyan crowds. The stories of his father and grandfather, Obama noted, “show the enormous barriers to progress that so many Kenyans faced just one or two generations ago.”
The President went on to declare that “Kenya is at a crossroads” and that it needs to confront “the dark corners” of corruption, ethnic division, and violence that exist within its borders and move toward expanding democracy.
Obama condemned practices of bribery, suggesting that the Kenyan economy could be improved if money from bribes were instead put towards paying people for an “honest day’s work”.
He additionally attacked the treatment of women in Kenya, remarking that treating women as second-class citizens was holding the country back from meeting its true potential.
In direct contrast to comments made by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, calling gay rights a “nonissue” in the country, Obama criticized the Kenyan government for making homosexuality punishable by several years in prison and urged the country to make progress in the area of gay rights.
The condemnations voiced by President Obama are not new criticisms for the nation riddled with controversy. But, perhaps, hearing them from a leader who is so deeply connected to Kenyan culture will help in swaying the country to strive for change.
– Katie Pickle