Coming to the close of his trip to his ancestral country, US President Barack Obama on Sunday morning exited thousands of Kenyans that gathered at the Kasarani stadium for his public address.
Obama was welcomed on stage by his half-sister Auma Obama, with whom they rode in the Presidential Limosine “The Beast” last Friday from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
In his speech, Mr Obama who is visiting Kenya for the fourth time, recalled his first trip there back in 1988, when he was ushered in the country by the same sister Auma.
He said he lost his luggage at the airport on that day.
“Auma picked me up in an old Volkswagen Beetle, and I think the entire stay I was here it broke down four or five times,” he said to a cheering crowd.
“We’d be on the highway and would have to call the Jua Kali. They’d bring us tools. We’d be sitting there waiting.”
“I slept on a couch in her apartment. Instead of eating at fancy banquets with the president; we were drinking tea, eating ughali and sukuma wiki. There wasn’t lots of luxury. Sometimes the lights would go out, “he said. “I know they still do.”
In a rather passionate address, Obama told Kenyans that his first trip there gave him his fist feel of identity and recognition, being a young American student unfamiliar with his father’s birth place.
He recalled, “At the airport as I was trying to find my luggage, there was a woman who worked for the airlines. She saw my name and asked if I was related to my father, whom she had known. That was the first time that my name meant something.”
“In the next weeks I met with my brothers and aunts and uncles, I travelled to the village where my family was from and I leant things about them that I could never have leant through books.”
“My grandfather for instance was a cook for the British, and as I went through some of his belongings, I found a passport he had had to carry as a domestic servant. It had his age, height, tribe, the number of teeth he had missing, and he was referred to as a boy, even though he was a grown man.”
Kenya, Mr Obama stressed, ought to learn from its history, and to understand that there are no bounds to it its potential achievements.
He went on to warn the Kenyans against tribal based politics noting that this is a politics that’s doomed to tear the country apart.
He was dismayed that back in the wake of the 2007 presidential elections, the country plunged itself in a disaster that claimed many lives. That was the same time he was running his first campaigns for president.
“I remember hearing a report of thousands of innocent people being killed. From a distance it seemed that the Kenya that I knew was splitting apart because of tribes and ethnicity.”
The US President also took time to speak out strongly about the corruption by government officials, which he said was a major threat to the country and the continents economic progress.
He highlighted a recent study which put it that corruption was costing Kenya up to 25000 jobs a year.
“Corruption is not unique to Kenya. There is no country that is free of corruption. So many countries are dealing with the problem. But the fact is, too often here in Kenya, corruption is tolerated because that’s how things have always been done.”
He said the same problem was being faced in other countries including the United States.
“We had the same problem in my home town of Chicago. But time came when people just got fed up and leaders stood up and said we are not going to play that game anymore. Kenya has to do the same and break that cycle.”
Girls and women
Another highlight in the public address was his insistence on the importance of girls and women in Kenya, a group he said was continuing to be sidelined at the hands of society’s tradition and cultures.
Citing an example of the US Confederate flag – a symbol of slavery – which was recently put down in South Carolina, Obama reminded Kenyans that some traits are wrong even though they date back many years in their past.
“Every country has unique traditions. But just because something is a part of your past doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t define your future,” he stressed.
“There is a tradition of repressing women and treating them differently, of husbands beating their wives, and children not being school, treating women and girls as second class citizens. Those are bad traditions they need to change.”
“There is no reason that young girls should suffer FGM. There is no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage. These traditions my date back for centuries but they have no place in the 21st century.”
“Any nation that fails to education its women is doomed to fall behind in the world economy. Imagine if you had a team and you don’t allow half of it to play. That’s stupid. Evidence shows that communities that give their daughters the same opportunities as their sons, are more peaceful and prosperous, and are likely to succeed.”