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‘Africa is on the move!’ Obama gets a rock star reaction from ordinary Kenyans – but a frosty response from the country’s president as he denounces Kenya’s treatment of homosexuals 

  • President Obama’s visit to Kenya is the first time a U.S. president has visited the African country while in office
  • Billing himself as America’s first Kenyan-American president, he was introduced to the crowd by his half-sister
  • He aimed the speech in Nairobi at the nation’s future leaders, urging them to ‘choose the path to progress’  
  • Kenya has one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies but is struggling to overcome corruption and terrorism

By

Imogen Calderwood For Mailonline

and
Sophie Jane Evans For Dailymail.com


Published:
07:18 EST, 26 July 2015

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Updated:
08:43 EST, 26 July 2015

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U.S. President Barack Obama received a rock star’s welcome in his first presidential visit to Kenya, the country where his father was born.

Billing himself as America’s first Kenyan-American president, Mr Obama targeted his speech at the country’s young people and leaders of the future.

He told a thousands-strong crowd, that had gathered at the Safaricom arena in Nairobi, that their country is at a crossroads and urged them to ‘choose the path to progress’.

‘I’m here as president of a country that sees Kenya as an important partner. I’m here as a friend who wants Kenya to succeed,’ he said, in a 40-minute speech that was broadcast live on local TV.

‘You can choose the path to progress, but it requires making some important choices.’ 

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Cheering crowd: U.S. President Barack Obama received a rock star's welcome from a thousands-strong crowd when he spoke in Nairobi during the first ever visit to Kenya by an American president

Cheering crowd: U.S. President Barack Obama received a rock star’s welcome from a thousands-strong crowd when he spoke in Nairobi during the first ever visit to Kenya by an American president

Family bond: The president was introduced by his sister Auma before the speech, who referred to him as ‘my brother, your brother, our son’

Welcome: Billing himself as America's first Kenyan-American president, Barack Obama targeted his speech at the country’s young people and leaders of the future

Welcome: Billing himself as America’s first Kenyan-American president, Barack Obama targeted his speech at the country’s young people and leaders of the future

The U.S. president urged the nation’s leaders to continue to root out corruption, eliminate income equality and end tribal conflict and gender violence.

‘The future of Africa is up to Africans,’ he said, adding that ‘Kenya is on the move. Africa is on the move’.

‘For too long I think that many looked to the outside for salvation and focused on somebody else being at fault for the problems of the continent.

‘We can see that future for Kenya on the horizon, but tough choices are going to have to be made.’

The president, playing on his status as a ‘son of the soil’, was introduced by his half-sister Auma, who described him as ‘my brother, your brother, our son.’

As well as the more than 4,000 people packed into the indoor area, thousands more people lined the president’s motorcade route to the arena. 

‘When it comes to the people of Kenya, particularly the youth, I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve,’ added Mr Obama, who arrived in the country on Friday.

‘Because of Kenya’s progress – because of your potential – you can build you future right here, right now.’ 

Look to the future: The U.S. president urged the nation’s leaders to continue to root out corruption, eliminate income equality and end tribal conflict and gender violence

Look to the future: The U.S. president urged the nation’s leaders to continue to root out corruption, eliminate income equality and end tribal conflict and gender violence

Leader: He told the thousands-strong crowd that had gathered in Nairobi that their country is at a crossroads and urged them to ‘choose the path to progress'

Leader: He told the thousands-strong crowd that had gathered in Nairobi that their country is at a crossroads and urged them to ‘choose the path to progress’

Greeting: Mr Obama's father was born and is buried in Kenya, and the country has waited for years for the opportunity to welcome him back as president

Greeting: Mr Obama’s father was born and is buried in Kenya, and the country has waited for years for the opportunity to welcome him back as president

Young leaders: The president addressed his speech towards the young people of the country, urging them to 'choose the path to progress'

Young leaders: The president addressed his speech towards the young people of the country, urging them to ‘choose the path to progress’

Troubles: Although one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, Kenya is struggling to overcome numerous challenges posed by widespread corruption and terrorism

Troubles: Although one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, Kenya is struggling to overcome numerous challenges posed by widespread corruption and terrorism

Mr Obama’s father was born and is buried in Kenya, and the country has waited for years for the opportunity to welcome him back as president.

Although one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent, Kenya is struggling to overcome numerous challenges posed by widespread corruption, tribal conflict and the threat posed for the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

The group, based in neighbouring Somalia, has killed scores of people over the past two years, attacking a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013, and a university in the northeast in April.

Mr Obama said that continued tribal and ethnic divisions are ‘doomed to tear our country apart’.

The president also called for an end to violence against women, forced marriages for girls who should be in school, sexual assault and female genital mutilation.

Striking a nerve: Speaking  outside the State House in Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday night, President Barack Obama (left) criticized Kenya for its treatment of homosexuals. In response, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) said gay rights are a 'non-issue' in his country

Striking a nerve: Speaking outside the State House in Nairobi, Kenya, on Saturday night, President Barack Obama (left) criticized Kenya for its treatment of homosexuals. In response, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) said gay rights are a ‘non-issue’ in his country

Serious matter: ‘As an African-American in the United States I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently,’ Obama said. ‘When you start treating people differently… because they are different… that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode’

Different opinions: Obama dded: '[If] somebody is a law-abiding citizen... the idea they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.' Above, Obama gestures during his State House speech as Kenyatta watches him

Different opinions: Obama dded: ‘[If] somebody is a law-abiding citizen… the idea they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.’ Above, Obama gestures during his State House speech as Kenyatta watches him

Listening: Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto (center) looks on as Obama speaks during his first trip to Kenya as U.S. president

Listening: Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto (center) looks on as Obama speaks during his first trip to Kenya as U.S. president

'It's a non-issue': Kenyatta (pictured speaking next to his American counterpart) said that after Kenya deals with other, more pressing issues such as terrorism, it can begin to look at new issues. But he said that the moment, gay rights is not at the forefront for the nation

‘It’s a non-issue’: Kenyatta (pictured speaking next to his American counterpart) said that after Kenya deals with other, more pressing issues such as terrorism, it can begin to look at new issues. But he said that the moment, gay rights is not at the forefront for the nation

He said: ‘These traditions may date back centuries. They have no place in the 21st century.’

Mr Obama’s historic visit is the first time an American president has visited Kenya during his term in office.

He is due to travel to Ethiopia on Sunday, and will address the continent from the headquarters of the African Union, both representing firsts for a U.S. president. 

But despite the warm welcome from the people, Kenya’s leader Mr Kenyatta did not seem so enamoured during a discussion on gay rights yesterday.    

Mr Obama spoke out in criticism of Kenya’s treatment of homosexuals, comparing discrimination against gay people to racism.

He added that ‘law-abiding’ citizens should not be punished for loving a particular person.

‘As an African-American in the United States I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently,’ he said.

‘When you start treating people differently, not because of any harm they are doing, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode.

‘[If] somebody is a law-abiding citizen… the idea they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.’

Support: Thousands of Kenyans turned up to see Obama as he visited August 7th Memorial Park in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier in the day

Support: Thousands of Kenyans turned up to see Obama as he visited August 7th Memorial Park in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier in the day

Big turnout: Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Kenya - and thanked Kenyans for welcoming him into his father's homeland

Big turnout: Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Kenya – and thanked Kenyans for welcoming him into his father’s homeland

Relative: Obama's half-sister, Auma Obama (center), watches as her half-sibling toasts Kenyatta during a state dinner later on Saturday

Relative: Obama’s half-sister, Auma Obama (center), watches as her half-sibling toasts Kenyatta during a state dinner later on Saturday

But Mr Kenyatta, standing on a stage alongside Mr Obama, declared that gay rights are a ‘non-issue’ in Kenya.

‘The fact of the matter is, Kenya and the U.S. share so many values: common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families – these are some things that we share,’ said Mr Kenyatta.

‘But there are some things that we must admit we don’t share, our culture, our societies don’t accept.’ 

Eric Gitari, who heads a Kenyan gay rights groups, praised Obama for tackling the matter on Saturday night on the basis of ‘the dignity of people by speaking about simple human to human interactions.’ U.S. group Human Rights First also issued a statement praising Obama for addressing the issue.

Some African rights groups, and prominent Kenyan politicians, had urged Obama to tread cautiously on the issue to avoid inflaming public opinion.

South Africa is the only African nation to allow same-sex marriage.     

Kenyan President Uhuhu Kenyatta said on Saturday that Mr Obama will be remembered in Africa for his support for the continent’s young people, a vital section of the country’s population.

Nearly a third of Kenya’s population are aged between 10 and 24, and about 60 per cent of the population is younger than 35, according to the US government.

Mr Kenyatta has taken steps to tackle corruption by suspending four Cabinet secretaries and 16 other senior officials in an investigation into allegations of dishonesty.

But the suspensions have been met with scepticism by the public because in the past, suspensions of senior officials haven’t resulted in anyone being convicted of a crime.

Some officials even returned to their jobs before investigations were complete.

Mr Kenyatta’s two-year-old regime has come under fire from local media and economic experts, alleging that the administration is more corrupt than previous governments. 

Proud: Obama's step-grandmother Mama Sarah Obama (pictured, right, in the yellow headband) listens to as Obama makes a toast

Proud: Obama’s step-grandmother Mama Sarah Obama (pictured, right, in the yellow headband) listens to as Obama makes a toast

Charming Kenya: With fond reflections on his family's ties to Kenya and even a 'birther' joke, Obama charmed the African nation's leaders on Saturday. Later in the night, the president couldn't resist making a joke about his birthplace - which critics have long questioned

Charming Kenya: With fond reflections on his family’s ties to Kenya and even a ‘birther’ joke, Obama charmed the African nation’s leaders on Saturday. Later in the night, the president couldn’t resist making a joke about his birthplace – which critics have long questioned

Quelling conspiracy theorists: 'Some of my critics back home might be suggesting I'm back here to look for my birth certificate,' Obama (pictured on Saturday) said from his father's homeland. 'That is not the case,' he jokingly added in a bid to quell conspiracy theorists

Quelling conspiracy theorists: ‘Some of my critics back home might be suggesting I’m back here to look for my birth certificate,’ Obama (pictured on Saturday) said from his father’s homeland. ‘That is not the case,’ he jokingly added in a bid to quell conspiracy theorists

Certificate: Obama's birth certificate (above), which was publicly released in 2011, lists the 53-year-old's place of birth Honolulu, Hawaii

Certificate: Obama’s birth certificate (above), which was publicly released in 2011, lists the 53-year-old’s place of birth Honolulu, Hawaii

On-stage: Kenyan staff members look on as Obama (second right) and Kenyatta (far right) speak outside the State House in Nairobi

On-stage: Kenyan staff members look on as Obama (second right) and Kenyatta (far right) speak outside the State House in Nairobi

Conference: Obama (at the left lectern) and Kenyatta are pictured at the news conference, which followed a meeting at the State House

Conference: Obama (at the left lectern) and Kenyatta are pictured at the news conference, which followed a meeting at the State House

Two Presidents: Eric Gitari, who heads a Kenyan gay rights groups, praised Obama (left) for tackling the matter of gay rights on Saturday - despite Kenyatta's (right) reaction - on the basis of 'the dignity of people by speaking about simple human to human interactions'

Two Presidents: Eric Gitari, who heads a Kenyan gay rights groups, praised Obama (left) for tackling the matter of gay rights on Saturday – despite Kenyatta’s (right) reaction – on the basis of ‘the dignity of people by speaking about simple human to human interactions’

After his comments about gay rights, Obama warned the audience that corruption may be the biggest impediment to Kenya's growth and opportunities in the future, and revealed that the U.S. and Kenya are currently working to launch direct flights between the countries

After his comments about gay rights, Obama warned the audience that corruption may be the biggest impediment to Kenya’s growth and opportunities in the future, and revealed that the U.S. and Kenya are currently working to launch direct flights between the countries

Difference in opinion: Obama said that treating people - such as homosexuals - differently is 'the path whereby freedoms begin to erode'

Difference in opinion: Obama said that treating people – such as homosexuals – differently is ‘the path whereby freedoms begin to erode’

Shaking hands: Obama (left) sported a serious expression as he shook hands with Kenyatta  at the end of the joint news conference

Shaking hands: Obama (left) sported a serious expression as he shook hands with Kenyatta at the end of the joint news conference

Conclusion: However, the presidents then appeared to leave the stage on good terms, with Obama placing his hand on Kenyatta's back

Conclusion: However, the presidents then appeared to leave the stage on good terms, with Obama placing his hand on Kenyatta’s back

While Obama’s late father was born in Kenya, the president himself was born in Hawaii. 

Several years ago, he released a copy of his birth certificate in a bid to quell conspiracy theorists. 

One of the most prominent theorists was real estate mogul Donald Trump, who questioned, over and over, whether Obama was really born in the U.S. as he debated running for president in 2011. When the document was produced by Obama, Trump said he was ‘very proud’ of his accomplishment.

He said he had achieved what ‘nobody else’ was able to do, while still referring to the document only as a ‘so-called birth certificate’.

The certificate lists Honolulu, Hawaii, as Obama’s place of birth. 

Security: A U.S. military helicopter flies over while  Obama and KKenyatta answer questions from the media

Security: A U.S. military helicopter flies over while Obama and KKenyatta answer questions from the media

Dressed up: A Kenyan man wearing a clothe decorated with the Kenyan and US flags walks among those Kenyans who gathered to witness Obama as he visited the August 7th Memorial Park earlier on Saturday

Dressed up: A Kenyan man wearing a clothe decorated with the Kenyan and US flags walks among those Kenyans who gathered to witness Obama as he visited the August 7th Memorial Park earlier on Saturday

Dancers: Crowds of Kenyans watch Masai dance as they wait for the US President's motorcade to appear

Dancers: Crowds of Kenyans watch Masai dance as they wait for the US President’s motorcade to appear

Employees: Kenyan staff members look on as Obama and Kenyatta (neither pictured) hold the press event

Employees: Kenyan staff members look on as Obama and Kenyatta (neither pictured) hold the press event

Officers: General Service Unit (GSU) police officers carrying guns are pictured patrolling the streets of Nairobi after Obama (not pictured) visited the August 7th Memorial Park in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier on Saturday

Officers: General Service Unit (GSU) police officers carrying guns are pictured patrolling the streets of Nairobi after Obama (not pictured) visited the August 7th Memorial Park in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier on Saturday

However, the document’s release hasn’t silenced the president’s doubters. 

And with critics seemingly unlikely to quieten anytime soon, Obama has started to joke about his birthplace.

In 2014, he made a wisecrack about it at the White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner. 

‘An American won the Boston Marathon for the first time in 30 years, which was inspiring and only fair, since a Kenyan has been president for the last six,’ said the married father of two. And in 2012, at the end of an Oklahoma event, Obama gave a humorous response after a female audience member approached him and said that she was born at the same Hawaii hospital as him. ‘Do you have YOUR birth certificate?’ he responded to laughter.

During his toast at Nairobi’s State House on Saturday night – hosted by President Kenyatta and his wife, Margaret – Obama also remarked that the occasion was a ‘somewhat unusual Obama family reunion’ because siblings, aunts, uncles and a grandmother related to his father attended.

Obama, who is the 44th President of the United States, spent nearly three hours at the dinner.

During the event, he also danced with the English and Swahili group, Sauti Soul, ABC News reported. 

 Greeting: Obama meets Kenya's Deputy President William Samoei Ruto at the State House in the capital

 Greeting: Obama meets Kenya’s Deputy President William Samoei Ruto at the State House in the capital

Intense discussion: Kenyatta listens to  Obama after their joint news conference at Nairobi's State House

Intense discussion: Kenyatta listens to Obama after their joint news conference at Nairobi’s State House

Arrival: The U.S. President leaves his car as he arrives to visit the State House in  Nairobi on Saturday night

Arrival: The U.S. President leaves his car as he arrives to visit the State House in Nairobi on Saturday night

Convoy: Police officers stand guard as Obama's convoy drives to the State House in Nairobi on Saturday

Convoy: Police officers stand guard as Obama’s convoy drives to the State House in Nairobi on Saturday

He said he ‘could have never imagined the hospitality’ he was met with in his father’s homeland. 

‘So I feel my given African name, to be truly blessed,’ he added.

Relatives at the state dinner included his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah Obama, and his half-sister, Auma Obama, among others.

Earlier in the night, Obama had said his mission to encourage growth in Africa is a personal one.

Speaking at a business summit designed to help supercharge the region’s economy, the U.S. president hailed a ‘continent on the move’, which is lifting its citizens ‘out of poverty’.

Obama, who is trying to encourage investors to support African nations like Kenya, has brought a contingent of more than 200 U.S. investors with him, whom he hopes will commit to the region.

He later expanded on his ideas, saying new business in Africa can offer hope to young people in the continent, parts of which continue to be ravaged by war, famine and extremism.

Big up: Earlier in the day, Obama made a speech plugging the African economy at a business summit (above)

Big up: Earlier in the day, Obama made a speech plugging the African economy at a business summit (above)

Q&A: The President took questions from entrepreneurs alongside his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta (second from right) at the event, held on UN property

Q&A: The President took questions from entrepreneurs alongside his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta (second from right) at the event, held on UN property

He said: ‘Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.’

Obama also spoke optimistically of the country on Friday, tweeting: ‘Proud to be the first American President to visit Kenya. Happy to see family, and to talk with young Kenyans about the future.’

Kenyans themselves have responded to the president with an enthusiasm which at least equals his.

Obama’s address to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, followed a family reunion on Friday night, where he met dozens of his relatives in an upscale city hotel.

He told his audience: ‘This is personal for me. There’s a reason why my name is Barack Hussein Obama. My father came from these parts.’

Talking up the expanding economy, he said: ‘Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions of the world. People are being lifted out of poverty… What happens in Africa is going to affect the world.’ 

In his honor: A woman carrying a U.S.-branded bag poses in front of the sign for the Senator Obama Primary School in Kogelo, his father's homeland

In his honor: A woman carrying a U.S.-branded bag poses in front of the sign for the Senator Obama Primary School in Kogelo, his father’s homeland

Obamania: Three boys, all named after Barack Obama, pose for a photo at Senator Obama Primary School

Obamania: Three boys, all named after Barack Obama, pose for a photo at Senator Obama Primary School

Banners and billboards sporting the President’s face sprung up around Nairobi ahead of Obama’s visit, while thousands of eager fans waved American flags and painted their faces.

The tried to get as close as they could to the Presidential motorcade amid intense security.

In Kogelo, the hometown and place of burial of Barack Obama Snr, Obama has two schools named in his honor, dedicated when he was still an Illinois senator.

Kogelo locals named the Senator Obama Kogelo Primary School and Senator Obama Kogelo Secondary School in his honor when he visited in 2006.

Since then, the enthusiasm for the President has surged, with many children being named for him.

When the BBC visited the schools, two boys in a single class of eight-year-olds were called Barack Obama, while virtually an entire class of 60 in the high school said they wish they shared their named with the President.

Aspirational: Boys at the school, which also educates girls, said they were proud to go to an institution named after the President

Aspirational: Boys at the school, which also educates girls, said they were proud to go to an institution named after the President

Looking out: A huge crowd of Kenyans waits for the Presidential motorcade to pass Nairobi's Memorial Park

Looking out: A huge crowd of Kenyans waits for the Presidential motorcade to pass Nairobi’s Memorial Park

While in Nairobi, Obama toured an innovation fair highlighting the work of vendors working with his Power Africa initiative, which aims to double sub-Saharan access to electricity. 

The President also visited a memorial at the site of the 1998 bombing of the city’s U.S. embassy, which killed more than 200 people.

He laid a wreath and bowed his head in front of the site, looking over the names over the 200 Kenyans and 12 Americans who died in the attack. 

Mr Obama spent Friday night reuniting with his father’s family. Security was tight in the Kenyan capital, with some of the city’s normally bustling streets closed to traffic and pedestrians for the visit.

 

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