World News

Obama Visits Kenya, Land of His Father, to Promote Local Charity

Posted July 16, 2018 6:24 p.m. EDT

Former President Barack Obama has arrived in Kenya, his father’s home country, in what was expected to be a lower-profile visit than the ones he made to the country as senator and president.

Obama traveled to Kenya on Sunday to promote the opening of a sports and training center that his half sister, Auma Obama, founded through her charitable foundation, The Associated Press reported.

In a Twitter post on Sunday night, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya showed photos of himself meeting a tieless Obama in Nairobi, the capital. “It was a great pleasure to welcome you back,” he wrote in welcoming Obama.

In another Twitter post, sent from the official presidential account, Kenyatta said he and his deputy had “had a refreshing chat” with the former American president and his half sister.

Auma Obama grew up in Kenya and returned there, after living in Germany and the United Kingdom, to work for the charity CARE International, according to a brief biography posted on the website of her foundation, Sauti Kuu. Her work at CARE focused partly on familiarizing girls with sports as a vehicle for social empowerment.

Sauti Kuu, based in Nairobi, serves children and young people, particularly from urban slums and rural communities. According to the foundation’s website, its new sports and training center is in Alego, apparently the same village where Barack Obama has said that his Kenyan family is from.

Kenya has always loomed large in the personal narrative of the former president, the son of a black university student from the country, whom he met only once, and a white anthropologist originally from Kansas. He first visited Kenya in 1987, sleeping for several weeks on his half sister’s sofa, and later described the trip in his first book, “Dreams From My Father.”

Barack Obama returned to Kenya as a senator in 2006 and again as president in 2015 to rapturous receptions. Many in the country celebrate him as a son of Africa who reached the pinnacle of power.

In a Twitter post last week, Obama described Africa as “a continent of wonderful diversity, thriving culture, and remarkable stories.”

But Kenya is also tied up in a conspiracy theory, fanned by President Donald Trump for years before he entered politics, that Obama had actually been born there and was therefore ineligible to be president. Obama dispelled that false claim in 2011 by publicly showing his U.S. birth certificate, but Trump did not abandon it until 2016.

Obama is in Kenya at a delicate political moment — about four months after Kenyatta and his top political rival, the opposition leader Raila Odinga, held a surprise meeting and promised a new focus on national unity after months of escalating tensions. The AP reported that Obama was expected to meet Odinga during his trip.

Obama is also expected to visit Kogelo, his father’s home village, AP said. That had not been possible in 2015 because of security and logistical concerns.

Before his 2015 trip to Kenya, Obama told reporters that he looked forward to the visit and saw it as symbolically important. But he also acknowledged that visiting the country as a private citizen “is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president, because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference center.”