Saturday 25 March 2017

Obama dines with long lost relatives during Kenya visit

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a joke while answering a question from the media about the dinner he had with his Kenyan relatives
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a joke while answering a question from the media about the dinner he had with his Kenyan relatives

Darlene Superville

What happens when an American president invites his African relatives to dinner at a Nairobi hotel? A lot of family members show up - more, perhaps, than he even knew he had.

The day after dining with about three dozen relatives, US President Barack Obama reflected on the time they spent together "just catching up". He said some of the more distant relatives were people he'd never met before, despite visiting Kenya twice in the past. Chuckling, he recalled the "lengthy explanations" about how one relative or another was connected to the Obama clan.

"I think the people of Kenya will be familiar with the need to manage family politics sometimes in these extended families," Obama said with a knowing grin.

With a hint of frustration, Obama said he had told his family how sorry he was that his ability to spend quality time with them on this visit was so limited. Logistical constraints and security precautions prevented Obama from visiting Kogelo, the village where his father lived and is buried.

"The next time I'm back, I may not be wearing a suit. The first time I came here, I was in jeans and a backpack," Obama said, recalling his first trip to Kenya nearly 30 years ago.

He may also bring back with him a few relatives of his own. Obama said he plans to return with first lady Michelle Obama and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, after leaving the White House.

"They have great love for this country and its people," he said.

However, Kenyans eager to have their country in the spotlight during Mr Obama's visit have been irked by a news report describing the East African nation as a "hotbed of terror". Kenyans quickly mobilized a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN to correct what many have called an exaggeration by the television network.

President Uhuru Kenyatta even joined in, telling attendees at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit that they will find Kenya to be "a hotbed of vibrant culture, spectacular natural beauty, and a wonderful people with infinite possibility." The crowd laughed and applauded at his remarks.

Kenya has struggled to contain the threat from al-Shabab militants based in neighbouring Somalia. Al-Shabab, a group linked to al-Qaeda, has conducted major attacks, including the 2013 attack on Nairobi's Westgate mall and an April attack in Garissa that killed nearly 150 people.

Kenyan troops are deployed in Somalia to counter al-Shabab, and the US has carried out drone strikes against suspected militants there.

Mr Obama's first full day in Africa came with a solemn reminder of the past. In between meetings in Nairobi, Mr Obama placed a red-and-white wreath at the site of the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy.

Extremists simultaneously attacked the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on August 7, 1998. The Kenya attack killed more than 200 Kenyans and 12 Americans at the embassy.

Thousands were injured, including Julie Ogoye, a Kenyan government worker, who was sitting at her desk when the explosion occurred. She suffered grievous injuries in the attack and has long questioned whether the US will provide financial compensation to her and other victims.

"I just want to know what his view is on the issue," Ogoye said of Mr Obama yesterday.

Ogoye, who has three children, was able to resume her work for the government body that oversees teachers. She said she was grateful for American funding soon after the bombing that enabled her to get medical treatment in Germany.

In the run-up to his trip, Obama faced comparisons to President George W. Bush, whose PEPFAR programme steered huge sums of money into efforts to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Rather than downplay Bush's accomplishments, Obama said he was proud of the work previous administrations did. He added that PEPFAR had saved millions of lives.

Sunday Independent

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