In July, U.S. President Barack Obama plans to travel to Nairobi, Kenya — his first trip there as president. Though Kenya and the U.S. have long been allies, Obama and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta have never met on the latter’s home turf. The White House announced in late March that Obama would make the visit, and has since reaffirmed the travel plans in the wake of the al-Shabaab attack at the Garissa University College in Kenya. Here are 12 things you need to know about Obama’s first presidential trip to Kenya.
Sources: TownHall.com, TheIndianPanorama.com, ForeignPolicy.com, TheGuardian.com, Nation.co.ke, FoxNews.com, Forbes.com
From July 24-26, the U.S. is scheduled to co-host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit planned in Nairobi. The summit intends to connect young entrepreneurs with global leaders, and is expected to attract thousands from all over the world. This will be the first time the summit is being held in Africa. The aim is to empower marginalized groups – particularly women and youth – through entrepreneurship.
Obama’s last trip to Kenya was in 2006 when he was an Illinois senator. He visited the country twice before being elected to public office. His first trip was in 1987, when he spent five weeks there tracing his father’s roots. It was a trip that he documented in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” Obama returned to Kenya in 1992 with his then-fiancé, Michelle, and his half-sister, Auma.
Focused on strengthening ties with Africa, both diplomatically and economically, Obama hosted the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. Kenyatta attended. According to a White House statement, Obama’s upcoming trip to Nairobi aims to “build on the success of the August 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and continue our efforts to work with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security.”
Obama’s half brother still lives in Kenya, along with various distant family members. His father, Barack Obama Sr., returned to Kenya after separating from his wife when Barack Jr. was 10 years old, but died more than 30 years ago in a road accident. Barack Sr. was born in Western Kenya in 1936. The White House has not said whether the president will visit relatives while in the country.
During Obama’s first and second election campaigns, conspiracy theorists calimed Obama was born in Kenya, making him ineligible for U.S. presidency. Even after the official records of his U.S. birth certificate were released, proving he was in fact born in Hawaii, America’s 50th state, the “birther” theories have never fully subsided.
In the nearly seven years that Obama has been in office, he has visited 47 countries including Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa – twice. The White House heralded this visit as proof of the strong ties between the two regions, “Just as President Kennedy’s historic visit to Ireland in 1963 celebrated the connections between Irish-Americans and their forefathers, President Obama’s trip will honor the strong historical ties between the U.S. and Kenya — and all of Africa – from the millions of Americans who trace their ancestry to the African continent, to the more than 100,000 Americans that live in or visit Kenya each year.”
When Obama visited the region in 2013, the White House cited concerns over Kenya’s elections and the indictment of President Kenyatta before the International Criminal Court. The ICC has since dropped charges against Kenyatta. Obama is firm in his commitment to travel to Nairobi in July.
Due to threats from terrorist group Al-Shabaab, the U.S. has had a travel advisory against Kenya since June 2014. Other governments, including those in the U.K., Australia, and France, also issued travel advisories for various places around Kenya. Most recently, the British Foreign Office extended its warning to Mombasa, a coastal town that is a common tourist destination.
Like on past trips in Africa, Obama’s security detail is expected to be extremely tight in Kenya. In 2013, his trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania cost between $60 million and $100 million just for security. After the Garissa University attack, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, “We don’t believe that this (the Al-Shabaab attack) will impact the president’s travel there later this year. We feel very confident in the security precautions that will be in place when the president travels.”
After Obama’s trip was announced, Kenya Tourism Board managing Director Muriithi Ndegwa took the opportunity to look to the future of American-Kenyan relations, calling it “an indication of the prowess of the destination to host international meetings.” Robinson Njeru Githae, Kenyan Ambassador to the U.S., said that the visit highlights Kenya’s “safety and security for visitors from all over the world.”
In his official statement after the Al-Shabaab massacre at Garissa University College, Obama gave condolences and stated the U.S. commitment to standing with the Kenyan government against terrorism. He reaffirmed his commitment to visit the country later this year. “This is a message I will relay to the Kenyan people when I visit Kenya in July. Even at this difficult hour, the Kenyan people should know they have an unwavering friend and ally in the United States of America.”
Following the Garissa University attack, Kenyatta and Obama spoke over the phone. Obama reaffirmed his commitment to traveling to Kenya in July. The two also indicated that counter terrorism cooperation would be a critical component of the agenda. Obama and Kenyatta also discussed holding bilateral talks to strengthen the countries’ economic ties.