KENYANS WELCOME OBAMA WITH OPEN ARMS

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They have been wait­ing for this mo­ment since he was elected pres­i­dent of the US in 2008. Barack Obama has paid his first state visit to the coun­try of his fa­ther, Kenya, and the na­tion has rolled out the red car­pet for him, while also rais­ing se­cu­rity to ex­treme lev­els. USA To­day re­ported that Obama was wel­comed by cheer­ing and danc­ing on the streets of the cap­i­tal city of Nairobi.

“We have waited for Obama to visit the coun­try since he be­came pres­i­dent. We want to thank God that he has fi­nally ar­rived. We thank him for ful­fill­ing his prom­ise to the coun­try be­fore he leaves the pres­i­dency,” said Grace Wangeci, a veg­etable seller on the streets of Nairobi.

Obama him­self ac­knowl­edged the sig­nif­i­cance of the visit when he opened the Global Entrepreneurship Sum­mit yesterday.

“I am proud to be the first US pres­i­dent to visit Kenya,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously, it is per­sonal for me. It’s the rea­son my name is Barack Hus­sein Obama. My fa­ther came from these parts, I have fam­ily and rel­a­tives here. It is won­der­ful to be back in Kenya.”

Al Jazeera.com re­ported that at the sum­mit, Obama praised Africa for its eco­nomic ad­vance­ments, call­ing it one of the fastest-grow­ing re­gions in the world.

“Peo­ple are be­ing lifted out of poverty, in­comes are up, the mid­dle class is grow­ing and young peo­ple like you are har­ness­ing tech­nol­ogy to change the way Africa is do­ing busi­ness,” he told young en­trepreneurs at the sum­mit.

But Nairobi was on lock­down and ma­jor routes, and the in­ter­na­tional air­port, were mostly closed for the state visit.

Ac­cord­ing to The Guardian, much of the fo­cus of Obama’s visit would be on im­prov­ing eco­nomic re­la­tions and en­hanc­ing se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion.

Kenya has been bat­tling to con­tain the threat by al-Shabaab mil­i­tants based in neigh­bour­ing So­ma­lia. An al-Qaeda off­shoot, it has plot­ted and ex­e­cuted ma­jor at­tacks in Kenya. Ac­cord­ing to CNN, the Pen­tagon has qui­etly ex­panded mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in So­ma­lia with the sole aim of tar­get­ing al-Shabaab bases. Drone strikes could soon be used to sup­port African peace­keep­ers, most of them Kenyan, who are con­stantly un­der at­tack from the terror group. CNN has re­ported that drones armed with Hell­fire mis­siles have been fly­ing from a US mil­i­tary site in Dji­bouti on the strike mis­sions. Other drones con­duct­ing in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing, sur­veil­lance and re­con­nais­sance have been op­er­at­ing out of Ethiopia, ac­cord­ing to one of the of­fi­cials.

Obama later vis­ited the Me­mo­rial Park in Nairobi’s CBD, the site where 17 years ago, al-Qaeda bombed the US em­bassy killing 218 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 5 000 oth­ers. He laid a wreath at the me­mo­rial. Mean­while, vil­lagers in Obama’s an­ces­tral vil­lage of Ko­gelo in Si­aya County were hop­ing he would make a stop there be­fore leav­ing Kenya.

Lo­cal media re­ported that US of­fi­cials had been vis­it­ing the vil­lage to hold meet­ings with his fam­ily.

Through their spokesper­son Ma­lik Obama, the pres­i­dent’s fam­ily is re­ported by lo­cal media to have writ­ten to the White House two weeks ago ask­ing him to visit Ko­gelo. It is not clear if per­mis­sion had been granted for the visit.

PHOTO: MOSES ESHIWANI / REUTERS

GRAND GREET­ING Barack Obama’s grand­mother Sarah Hus­sein (cen­tre) gets ready to greet her grand­son

PHOTO: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

SO­LAR SEN­SA­TION Pres­i­dent Barack Obama meets a so­lar power tech­ni­cian at the Power Africa In­no­va­tion Fair in Nairobi yesterday

PHOTO: THOMAS MUKOYA / REUTERS

SIS­TERLY LOVE Barack Obama em­braces his half­sis­ter, Auma Obama, upon ar­rival in Kenya

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