Obama urges Kenyans to 'choose path to progress'
Published 26/07/2015 | 06:07
US President Barack Obama told Kenyans that their country is at a crossroads and urged them to "choose the path to progress" by continuing to root out corruption, eliminate income inequality and be more inclusive of women and girls.
At the end of a historic visit to the land of his father's birth, Mr Obama said Kenya has come so far in just his lifetime, but can go even further.
"You can choose the path to progress, but it requires making some important choices," he said in a speech to several thousand Kenyans packed into an indoor arena in Nairobi. Thousands more Kenyans lined the president's motorcade route to the arena and the speech was broadcast live on local TV.
Mr Obama traced the history of Kenya's evolution, from colonialism and isolation to independence and global engagement.
But he said challenges remained and he urged Kenyans, particularly its future leaders, to deal with corruption and tribal conflict, create opportunity for all, improve education and health care, treat women better and confront the threat of terrorism.
"When it comes to the people of Kenya, particularly the youth, I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve," he said. "Because of Kenya's progress - because of your potential - you can build your future right here, right now.
The president's late father was born and is buried in Kenya, and its people have waited for years for the chance to welcome Mr Obama back as president.
He made history by becoming the first sitting American president to visit Kenya when he arrived late on Friday.
Kenya has one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent and is the commercial hub of East Africa, but is struggling to overcome challenges to its prosperity posed by widespread corruption and the threat of al-Shabab militants based in neighbouring Somalia.
Mr Obama will also highlight efforts to support African youth by visiting a regional centre for his Young African Leaders Initiative, a programme to help cultivate the next generation of African leaders.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Saturday at a news conference with Mr Obama that the US president will be remembered in Africa for focusing on the continent's young people.
Nearly 1 in 3 Africans are aged 10-24, and about 60% of Africa's total population is younger than 35, according to the US government.
In Ethiopia, another Horn of Africa nation that will be getting its first visit by a sitting US president, Mr Obama plans meetings with the president and prime minister.
He w ill also speak to the continent from the headquarters of the African Union, which plays a role in peace and security on the continent.
It will be the first time an American president addresses the AU.
He was introduced at the Nairobi arena by Auma Obama, his sister on his father's side of the family, who presented him to the audience as "my brother, your brother, our son."
The president traced the history of Kenya's evolution, from colonialism and isolation to independence and global engagement since it won independence from the British just over 50 years ago, in December 1963.
But he said challenges remain. He urged Kenyans - particularly its future leaders - to deal with corruption and tribal conflict, create opportunity for all, improve education and health care, treat women better and confront the threat of terrorism.
"When it comes to the people of Kenya, particularly the youth, I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve," he said. "Because of Kenya's progress - because of your potential - you can build your future right here, right now."
The speech struck many of the same notes that Mr Obama has hit in remarks during past visits to Africa, urging the continent's leaders to shape up and not look to others to determine their destiny.
He said corruption was not unique to Kenya but described the pervasiveness of it in Kenya as a "cancer" that is holding back every aspect of economic and civic life like an "anchor."
He noted Kenya's booming economy - it has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa - and asked that the country's economic gains be shared more broadly with all Kenyans.
He urged an end to old tribal and ethnic divisions that he said are "doomed to tear our country apart" and urged Kenya's leaders, as he did President Kenyatta during their meetings on Saturday, to confront the terrorist threat posed by al-Shabab militants based across the border in Somalia. The group has killed scores in Kenya in brazen attacks carried out in the past two years.
Mr Obama also pressed for more tolerance and respect of women and girls, calling for an end to violence against women, forced marriages for girls who should otherwise be attending school, sexual assault and the tradition known as "genital mutilation".
"These traditions may date back centuries. They have no place in the 21st century," he said.
Mr Kenyatta has taken steps to tackle corruption by suspending four Cabinet secretaries and 16 other senior officials amid 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 has been under public pressure to act following reviews of his two-year-old regime, published in local media by opposition and economic experts, that claimed his administration is more corrupt than previous governments.