Dreams from My Father: President Obama finds a way to visit Kenya, finally

It will likely resemble a coronation, as the East African country’s most famous prodigal son returns home.

HE will come in under the cover of an entrepreneurship summit, but US president Barack Obama finally found a way to frame a visit to Kenya, the east African country where his father hailed from and which has been waiting for him since his election.

The White House on Monday announced that Obama will travel to Nairobi on July 23 to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which will take place in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time.

Initially meant to promote innovation and deepen business ties between the US and Muslim communities worldwide, it last year took place in Morocco.

This will be the first time Obama has attended the summit in a foreign country.  

It had been one of the worst-kept secrets that he would look to spot a gap to visit the country where several of his relatives still live.  

His father was an economist from western Kenya and, though Obama was never close to him or spent much time in the country, many Kenyans claim him as one of their own.

An annual event backed by the US government, the summit was unveiled by Obama in Cairo on June 2009, in what was his first trip to the continent as president (he’d visited as senator), when he also made a one-day stop over in Ghana.

Obama arrives in Tanzania on July 1, 2013. (Photo AFP).

But many Africans were impatient that he makes an extended tour of the continent, amid disappointment that America’s first black president had not been as engaged with the country as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

They had to wait until his second term, as he spent his first term focused on Asia and Latin America. 

Obama has visited Kenya before in 2006, but as a freshman senator, and it had long rankled that he had not visited the country as president, despite having travelled to next-door Tanzania in July 2013 on a week long tour that also took him to Senegal and South Africa.

The White House noted that it will be Obama’s fourth trip to to sub-Saharan Africa “and the most of any sitting US president.”

Analysts attributed art of the reason for skipping Kenya as being due to president Uhuru Kenyatta’s troubles at the International Criminal Court, where he faced major crimes charges that stemmed from a disputed presidential election in 2007.

The ICC, citing a lack of evidence, dropped its charges late last year, but his deputy remains in court. Obama was then able to invite and schmooze with Kenyatta at the US-Africa Summit last August.

It will not be lost on commentators that Kenyatta last week announced a major anti-corruption drive where nearly a third of his Cabinet has been forced to step aside pending probes.

Kenyatta has also stayed the course in Somalia despite enormous internal pressure to exit, where Kenyan troops are part of the African Union peacekeeping force battling Al-Shabaab terrorists. The scent around Kenyatta, from an American perspective, is much sweeter now than at any point in the last two years.

But the White House remained on message. “Choosing Kenya as the destination for GES underscores the fact that Africa, and Kenya in particular, has become a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship. Kenya is a world leader in mobile money systems like M-Pesa and a driver of innovation, through creative spaces like “iHub.” 

Obama’s visit will be seen by Nairobi as completing its rehabilitation of Kenyatta back into the international fold, and will make for huge political capital.      

Obama’s book, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” first published in 1995 is a story of the events of his  life up until his entry into law school in 1988. He first travelled to Kenya before he went to law school, and faced the bitter truth of his father’s conflicted life.

He can at the minimum expect rock star treatment. And now visiting his father’s homeland as the world’s most powerful man, it will probably not be lost on him how far he has travelled.

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