In his father’s home country, the U.S. president introduced himself as “Kenyan-American.” But in a totally un-Kenyan way, he has demanded rights for homosexuals and called for a fight against corruption.
Before the visit, there were speculations as to whether the American president would visit the village of Kogelo, the home and burial place of his father, Barack Obama, Sr. Although he didn’t go there, he invited about 40 relatives from his father’s side (the father whom he hardly knew) to dinner on Friday evening, soon after arriving in Nairobi.
“In these extended families, there are […] uncles and aunties that show up that you didn’t know existed […]. But it was a wonderful time,” Obama said about the festivities. On his right sat 94-year-old Mama Sarah, as everyone calls the last wife of Barack Obama, Sr., and whom Barack Obama calls, with slight exaggeration, ‘Granny,’ (his parents divorced when he was two years old; he then met his father only once, when he was nine years old.)
As he jokingly admitted in front of the journalists, he came to Kenya in part because Mama Sarah demanded it. “When she says you should do something, generally you have to do it,” he said [SEE HERE]. Other dinner attendees said that the U.S. president had to explain to the family members why he visits them so rarely — he last visited Kenya in 2006 — and promised that he will visit more often after he moves out of the White House.
The issue of his too rare visits and even neglecting his kinsmen were the motif of the whole visit, not only its private part. After Obama’s election in autumn 2008, many Africans hoped that the president of Kenyan descent would involve America in helping their continent. Nothing like this happened; paradoxically, some Africans better remember George W. Bush, who helped to combat the HIV epidemic, among other things, by supplying anti-retroviral drugs and administering them to infected mothers, so their babies would be born healthy. Although Obama has continued the anti-HIV program and has even expanded it, in the general opinion, Bush, who initiated it, remains the benefactor.
“Obama’s visit to Kenya is like all his African policy — merely symbolic,” Adekeye Adebajo, the Nigerian executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in South Africa, bitterly wrote in The Guardian. And he enumerated Obama’s African sins: support for the Egyptian generals, who overthrew a legally elected president and now persecute Muslims; participation in the overthrow of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, which led to chaos and anarchy; and ultimately American drones dropping bombs in Somalia.
Only two years ago, already into his second term, Obama suggested a new initiative for Africa, i.e., American support for increasing electricity production (which is crucial because all of sub-Saharan Africa produces as much energy as, for example, the small country of Spain). The Power Africa program remains at the preliminary stage.
Despite these disappointments, Kenyans greeted Obama enthusiastically. And he introduced himself as “Kenyan-American” and praised the progress that has been made since his last visit. But he did not avoid sensitive issues. During a press conference on Saturday, he harshly criticized the discrimination against gays and lesbians in Kenya (homosexual relations here are universally condemned and punishable by up to 14 years in prison).
“If somebody is a law abiding citizen […], the idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop,” said Obama [SEE HERE]. President Uhuru Kenyatta, standing next to him, retorted that certain things are not accepted in Kenyan culture and that the issue of gay rights is secondary in the current stage of development of the country.
On Sunday, in a speech at a university for 5,000 young Kenyans, Obama called for a fight against corruption and for equal rights for Kenyan women. “Treating women and girls as second-class citizens is a bad tradition. […] That’s stupid,” Obama lectured his hosts.
This good advice, coming from a famous cousin who came from the greater world, was greeted in various ways. Young people cheered when Obama criticized corruption in Kenya. But Obama’s railing against gay and lesbian discrimination was accepted coldly. A survey conducted two years ago by the Pew Research Center showed that 90 percent of Kenyans do not accept homosexuality.