Barack Obama kicked off his official visit to
Kenya yesterday by sitting down to dinner
with his step-grandmother and other
members of his extended family.
The US President was cheered by Kenyans
who lined the streets as he was driven
through Nairobi from the airport where he
was formally greeted by President Uhuru
Kenyatta and other top officials. At his hotel, amid high security, he was reunited with the woman he calls “Granny” – his step grandmother Sarah Obama, who helped raise his father.
The matriarch, in her 90s and also known
as Mama Sarah, was accompanied at the
dinner by the president’s half-sister Auma
Obama and dozens of other members of his
The president is regarded by many Kenyan’s
as a ‘son’ of the nation and earlier in the
day, as Mama Sarah boarded her plane in
the western city of Kisumu to fly to Nairobi,
she declared: “Today, I am going to talk to
him face to face.”
The president’s father, Barack Obama Sr,
left Kenya as a young man to study at the
University of Hawaii. There, he met and
married Stanley Ann Dunham, a white
woman from Kansas.
The elder Obama left Hawaii when his son
was just two years old, first to continue his
studies at Harvard, then to return to Kenya.
The future president and his father would
see each other just once more, when the son
was 10 years old. Mr Obama’s father died in
a car crash in 1982, at the age of 46.
“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” Mr
Obama said last year during a White House
event for My Brother’s Keeper, his initiative
for young men. “I was angry about it, even
though I didn’t necessarily realise it at the
The trip is, however, likely to focus on trade
and counter-terrorism, with the family
reunion something of a sideshow. Mr Obama is not expected to travel to the village where his father is buried.
Official talks are, in particular, likely to
concentrate on the Somali Islamist group al
Shabaab Al-Shabaab, a terror group linked
to al-Qaeda, which has conducted major
attacks in Kenya, an ally of the West, including the 2013 massacre at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi and an attack in Garissa in April that killed nearly 150 people.
In Nairobi, he will preside at a Global
Entrepreneurship Summit, pay tribute to
victims and survivors of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing and dine with Mr Kenyatta, whose indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity largely barred Obama from visiting sooner. Charges have been dropped.
Mr Obama’s visit has required a huge security operation, with Kenyan troops patrolling Nairobi and several US military aircraft were spotted flying above the city.
Major Nairobi roads will be temporarily
closed and authorities said the airport would be closed for Mr Obama’s departure for Ethiopia tomorrow. Safaricom, a mobile
network operator, warned of disruptions to
phone signals while Mr Obama was in