Obama’s Ancestral Visit

Obama’s Ancestral Visit
Former US President Obama arrived in Kenya on Sunday to help launch his sister’s project. This is his first visit to the country since he left office. Kenya is a country on the East African coast bordered by Ethiopia..

Former US President Obama arrived in Kenya on Sunday to help launch his sister’s project. This is his first visit to the country since he left office.

Background

Kenya is a country on the East African coast bordered by Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. It is known as “the cradle of humanity” due to archaeological evidence indicating what may be the earliest human ancestors from 3.3 million BC. Some of the earliest known inhabitants of the region are the Bantu people. Kenya has had historical trade ties to the Arab world, Persia, and India.

European exploration in the region began in the 1800s, and the British Empire established the East Africa Protectorate in 1895. In 1920, it became the Crown Colony of Kenya, gaining independence in 1963. Today, the country has a population of over 47 million.

The country has often been marred by violence. The Islamist militant Al-Shabab movement, has launched a number of attacks in Kenya. Home to 48 million people, the region also grapples with challenges like high unemployment, crime and poverty. It also suffers from frequent droughts that put the lives of millions of people at risk. In addition to these issues, the country has often seen large outbursts of violence during election periods.

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, traces his ancestry to Kenya. He was born in Hawaii, where he spent most of his childhood with his mother Stanley Ann Dunham, a white American woman from Kansas. He barely knew his late father Barack Obama Sr., a Kenyan senior governmental economist, after whom he was named. Many Kenyans consider Obama native to the country and bask in the glory of his success, despite the fact that he never lived in Africa.

Analysis

Barack Obama arrived in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi on 15th July to help with the launch of a sports and training center founded by his half-sister, Dr. Auma Obama through her foundation Sauti Kuu. The center will provide educational and economic opportunities to help young people serve their communities, sharing a mission similar to Obama Foundation. He had previously visited Kenya in 2006 and 2015 as senator and president, respectively. Unlike his previous captivating visits, Sunday’s trip was low key where he was not accompanied by his family.

Obama met President Uhuru Kenyatta at the official residence in Nairobi. The leaders agreed that the youth in Africa can become the continent’s most valuable asset if their energy and creativity are effectively harnessed.  They discussed various issues such as the building bridges initiative and tackling corruption. He also met Raila Odinga, the opposition leader of Orange Democratic Movement who is now working with Kenyatta’s government.

He then travelled to Kogelo in Siaya County, where his grandmother Sarah Obama lives. Kogelo shot to global limelight after his election as America's first black president in 2008. Big screens were set up in towns to demonstrate the launch of the vocational center and prevent overcrowding at the venue. “We are upbeat about the coming of President Barak Obama,” said Siaya County Governor Cornell Rasanga. He stated that he was not expecting much in terms of any announcements of aid. Instead, Rasanga said he will ask Obama to help develop a university to be named President Barack Obama University.

In a speech he delivered at the launch, Obama said he was encouraged by political developments in the country. Despite Kenya emerging as a more self-confident and self-reliant country, there is a need to address other challenges that remain. He said, "It means rooting out corruption, it means seeing different ethnicities not as enemies or rivals but as allies, seeing the diversity not as a weakness but as a strength.” He believes that if the right policies are put in place, the progress achieved so far will allow the youth to have more opportunities.

Obama will head to South Africa later on Monday to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa and speak at an event in honor of the late Nelson Mandela's birthday in Johannesburg. He is also expected to participate in a town hall with 200 new leaders of the Obama Foundation in Africa. "President Obama looks forward to meeting these emerging leaders for the first time, hearing about the extraordinary work they are doing across Africa, and discussing how the Obama Foundation can support their civic leadership development," said Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for the former President.

Assessment

Our assessment is that Obama’s visit to his ancestral village might drive more leaders to invest in youth empowerment programs. We feel that the moment might provide him the opportunity to mobilize resources and supporters as an ordinary person, without any political reservations. We believe that the region is full of vitality and opportunity, despite years of conflict and poverty.

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