US President Barack Obama today ended a landmark visit to Kenya, urging the east African nation and birthplace of his father to renounce corruption, tribalism and inequality.
Speaking to a raucous crowd in an indoor arena in the capital Nairobi, Obama said Kenya needed to ditch “bad traditions” including endemic bribe-taking, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and communal violence.
“Kenya is at a crossroads, a moment filled with enormous peril but also enormous promise,” he said in a rousing live address to the nation.
Seeking to leverage his status as a “son of the soil” and his huge local popularity, Obama said his ancestral homeland faced “tough choices” ahead, urging Kenyans to end the “bad tradition” of failing to empower women, while warning that “a politics based only on tribe and ethnicity is a politics doomed to tear a country apart.”
“Treating women as second-class citizens… those are bad traditions, they need to change, they are holding you back,” he said.
“Corruption is not unique to Kenya, but the fact is too often corruption is tolerated because that’s how things have always been done,” he said. “Just because something is a part of your past doesn’t make it right.”
Throughout his two-day trip, Obama has tried to bridge two constituencies: Americans reexamining their stereotypes of Africa, and Africans hoping for a better future.
But the friendly, aspirational message belies a hard-nosed security need.
A young but impoverished population could be fertile ground for instability and the growth of groups like Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab – who have also been at the top of the list of security concerns surrounding Obama’s stay.
There were no reported security incidents during the visit, although as the presidential jet Air Force One took off from Kenya and headed to Ethiopia, a major bomb blast – most likely carried out by the Shebab — hit a hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
The target was a heavily guarded building housing diplomatic missions and frequented by government officials and international workers.
The visit has seen the United States increase its trade ties and security assistance to Kenya, with Obama also urging the country to respect its Muslim minority.
The Kasarani stadium complex where Obama delivered the speech was used to hold hundreds of ethnic Somalis during controversial mass arrests following the 2013 Somali-led Shebab assault on the Westgate shopping mall in central Nairobi that killed 67.