When United States President Barack Obama (then-Illinois Senator) made his first official visit to Kenya in August, 2006, he met Mwai Kibaki (President at that time), Raila Odinga (then-Opposition leader and Langata MP) and Uhuru Kenyatta (then-KANU Chairman and Gatundu South MP), and assured the trio that he won’t endorse any of them or impose on Kenyans a leader whom the citizenry did not approve of.
His visit to Kenya came at a time politicians were shaping up for the following year’s general election.
It also came at a time Kenyans thought he would take sides – but Obama stood firmly and stated none of then-key political figures was his favourite.
“One of the things we try to do is meet with all parties. I met President Kibaki, I met Uhuru Kenyatta, I was with Raila Odinga. We met the government, met the opposition and met other groups such as human rights activists. What I try to do is give a consistent message on what I think U.S.-Kenya relations should be, but not to suggest somehow that I think one party is better than the other. That’s for the Kenyan people to decide,” he said in a media interview.
Obama has remained neutral in Kenyan politics – and on his second official visit to Kenya on July, 2015, the Head of State emphasised the importance of unity and progressive politics.
“Now, like any country, Kenya is far from perfect, but it has come so far in just my lifetime. After a bitter struggle, Kenyans claimed their independence just a few years after I was born. And after decades of one party-rule, Kenya embraced a multi-party system in the 1990s, just as I was beginning my own political career in the United States.
“Tragically, just under a decade ago, Kenya was nearly torn apart by violence at the same time that I was running for my first campaign for President. And I remember hearing the reports of thousands of innocent people being killed or driven from their homes. And from a distance, it seemed like the Kenya that I knew — a Kenya that was able to reach beyond ethnic and tribal lines — that it might split apart across those lines of tribe and ethnicity.
“But look what happened. The people of Kenya chose not to be defined by the hatreds of the past — you chose a better history. The voices of ordinary people, and political leaders and civil society did not eliminate all these divisions, but you addressed the divisions and differences peacefully. And a new constitution was put in place, declaring that ‘every person has inherent dignity — and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.’
“A competitive election went forward — not without problems, but without the violence that so many had feared. In other words, Kenyans chose to stay together. You chose the path of Harambee.
“And in part because of this political stability, Kenya’s economy is also emerging — and the entrepreneurial spirit that people rely on to survive in the streets of Kibera can now be seen in new businesses across the country. From the city square to the smallest villages, MPesa is changing the way people use money. New investment is making Kenya a hub for regional trade. When I came here as a “U.S. senator, I pointed out that South Korea’s economy was the same as Kenya’s when I was born, and then was 40 times larger than Kenya’s. Think about that. It started at the same place — South Korea had gone here, and Kenya was here. But today, that gap has been cut in half just in the last decade. Which means Kenya is making progress,” Obama said.
In his 2006 visit to Kenya, Obama’s aim was to raise awareness for AIDS and to reconnect with his roots. But he chose to address matters politics – politics being one of the key factors playing divisive function in the country (that is, when it is used negatively by politicians).
“Ethnic-based tribal politics has to stop,” Obama said in his speech at the University of Nairobi on August 28, 2006. “It is rooted in the bankrupt idea that the goal of politics or business is to funnel as much of the pie as possible to one’s family, tribe, or circle with little regard for the public good. It stifles innovation and fractures the fabric of the society. Instead of opening businesses and engaging in commerce, people come to rely on patronage and payback as a means of advancing. Instead of unifying the country to move forward on solving problems, it divides neighbor from neighbor.”