Politics

President Obama greeted warmly on first presidential trip to Kenya

President Obama is hugged by his half-sister Auma Obama, accompanied by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) as he arrives at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on Friday.
President Obama is hugged by his half-sister Auma Obama, accompanied by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) as he arrives at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on Friday.
Ben Curtis/AP
President Obama is hugged by his half-sister Auma Obama, accompanied by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) as he arrives at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on Friday.
Mark Kaigwa is a digital strategist in Kenya. He calls #KOT "the unofficial back channel for conversations, questions and commentary."
/Personal Democracy/Flickr


President Barack Obama arrived on Friday in Kenya, the birthplace of his late father, for his first official visit to the east African country.

Obama, at the start of a planned three-day visit, was greeted on the tarmac in Nairobi by President Uhuru Kenyatta and other top Kenyan officials, and received a hug from his half-sister, Auma Obama.

Forging closer trade ties with Kenya is a key item on the agenda for Obama's visit. Also likely to figure in discussions is the battle against the Somali-based al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab extremist group, which has carried out attacks in Kenya, most notably a 2013 assault on a shopping center in the capital that resulted in the deaths of at least 67 people and an attack on a Kenyan university that killed 148 people.

Ahead of his fourth visit to Africa since taking office — the most for any sitting U.S. president — Obama spoke of the continent's hope and difficulties.

"Despite its many challenges — and we have to be clear-eyed about all the challenges that the continent still faces — Africa is a place of incredible dynamism, some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, extraordinary people, extraordinary resilience," Obama said, adding that he believes Africa "has the potential to be the next center of global economic growth."

As NPR's Gregory Warner says, Obama's mission "is to change the image of Africa in the West to encourage investment in fast-growing African economies without seeming to legitimize African leaders."

As The Hill notes, for Obama the trip "will bring into sharp focus his relationship with Barack Obama, Sr. — a complicated man who Obama barely knew."

According to Reuters: "Hours before Obama's arrival, police blocked major roads and emptied streets of traffic in the usually congested capital as part of a huge security operation. In the darkness, excited Kenyans lined parts of the route to his hotel, cheering Obama's cavalcade passed by."

USA Today described the capital as being "on lockdown":

"While his arrival is heavily anticipated because of his Kenyan roots, many in this capital city are already chafing under the tight security measures meant to reduce crime and minimize terrorist threats.

"Vendors can't sell trinkets, families can't buy vegetables and residents can't withdraw cash from banks. The government has told non-essential businesses in Nairobi to close and residents to stay home until Obama leaves Sunday for Ethiopia."

Scott Neuman/NPR

Kenya's Twitterati send thousands of messages to Obama

Kenyans like to tweet.

A lot.

The report "How Africa Tweets" says Nairobi is "the most active East African city on Twitter.

And this past week, Kenyans have outdone themselves. They're using the hashtag #KenyansMessageToObama to share their concerns with the president, who'll be visiting the country this weekend.

Most of the top tweets are related to the topic of gay rights. Some want the president to talk about the issue. Others disagree.

That kind of debate on hot topics is part of the regular online conversation at #KOT — short for "Kenyans on Twitter." In the past week, #KOT has been used over 34,000 times and counting.

That's where "the country's online citizens mobilize themselves around an idea or ideal," says Mark Kaigwa, Kenyan digital strategist and publisher of The A to Z of Kenyan Twitter.

"The local and regional media houses can only interview so many people and this serves as the global town square, only this time it sees local Kenyans exchange points of view and collectively settle on those that resonate the most."

The tweets are "some of the biggest critics of the state of the country," he adds.

But they also have a good sense of humor. When CNN called the Kenyan region "a hotbed of terror" in advance of the president's visit, tweeters offered a different perspective.

With Obama slated to visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopian tweeters are also speaking out. Their hashtag is #EthiopiansMessageToObama and so far there have been over 9,000 tweets.

Many of those tweets call out recent incidents in which the Ethiopian government has attempted to silence journalists, religious leaders, and others who have been critical of the current administration.

The big question: Is President Obama paying attention to all these tweets?

No comment from the White House.

— Aggi Ashagre/NPR

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