Security to top agenda on Obama's Kenya visit

This will be Barack Obama's first visit to the country since he took office.

FILE: US President Barack Obama. Picture: AFP.

PRETORIA - US President Barak Obama leaves for Kenya tomorrow on his first since to his late father's homeland since occupying the White House.

Excited Kenyans have tightened security and spruced up their capital. Many are calling the visit a godsend.

This week's Washington visit by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari provided a template that the US leader may use in Nairobi.

Nigeria and Kenya share preoccupations with fighting terrorism and corruption. Obama is attending a summit on global entrepreneurship in Nairobi.

But he will also offer President Uhuru Kenyatta help in the battle with al-Shabaab militants and the graft that's hamstringing Kenya's economy.

He will also want to discuss human rights and that includes gay rights, with a country that stoutly defends its homophobic legislation.

Meanwhile, Kenyatta said on Tuesday that improving security cooperation and trade links between Kenya and the US will top the agenda when Obama visits the east African nation this weekend.

A key Western ally in the battle against the spread of militant Islam out of Somalia, Kenya's security agencies receive training and equipment from the US, Britain and Israel.

Yet over the past two years Kenya has suffered a series of major attacks by Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab, including a massacre in April of 148 people at a Kenyan university near the Somali border.

The violence has hurt Kenya's tourism industry, vital to east Africa's biggest economy, and has piled pressure on Kenyatta to improve security.

"The fight against terror will be central (to discussions). We have been working in very close co-operation with American agencies," Kenyatta said, without elaborating.

Obama's visit to his father's homeland to co-host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with Kenyatta has been touted by Kenya as global recognition of the economic strides Kenya has made in the past decade.

Kenyatta said he wants more American companies to work with Kenyan firms in the energy and health sectors, as well as infrastructure development.

Establishing direct flights between Kenya and the US will also be on the agenda of the visit as the lack of such a direct transport link was hurting business and tourism, Kenyatta said.

He told a news conference that he hoped Obama's visit would help Kenya obtain the US regulatory status required for direct flights there.

US officials have previously cited concerns about security measures at Nairobi's main airport as the reason why the US regulator has not allowed direct flights to Kenya.


On the possibility of discussing gay rights, an issue close to Obama's heart, Kenyatta was dismissive.

Obama hailed last month's US Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriage, but in Kenya and other African countries, where more socially and religiously conservative views prevail, few agree with him.

"It's a non-issue to the people of this country and it's definitely not on our agenda at all," Kenyatta said.

"We as a country, as a continent, are faced with much more serious issues which we would want to engage the US and all our partners with."