At Last — For the First Time as President — Barack Obama Will Visit Kenya, the Land of his Father

President Obama at the opening ceremony of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston on Monday. (Credit: Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times)
President Obama at the opening ceremony of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston on Monday. (Credit: Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times)

For years, Kenya has been a political headache for President Obama and a geopolitical headache for the United States. But now in his seventh year in office, with his last election behind him, Mr. Obama has decided to embrace his heritage by visiting the land of his father for the first time as president.

Mr. Obama will travel to Kenya in July to co-host a forum on entrepreneurship as part of an effort to support economic development in Africa, the White House announced Monday. In the process, the president may hope to exorcise some of the ghosts that have haunted his relationship with his family’s home country — so much that he once felt obliged to produce a birth certificate to prove he was not born there.

Until now, Mr. Obama has resolutely avoided stopping in Kenya while in office, bypassing it during three previous presidential trips to sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to the chattering such a stop would presumably provoke among those who still refuse to believe he was born in the United States, the idea of a visit to Kenya was also problematic on the diplomatic front because of political instability and charges of crimes against humanity lodged against that country’s president.

Now, the case against the president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been dropped, and the perennial talk about Mr. Obama’s birth has faded in the United States. So Mr. Obama seems to have concluded that a Kenya trip is acceptable at home and abroad.

As the White House announced the visit, it tried to present it as a powerful symbol of America’s longstanding ties to Africa as represented by its African-American president.

“Just as President Kennedy’s historic visit to Ireland in 1963 celebrated the connections between Irish-Americans and their forefathers, President Obama’s trip will honor the strong historical ties between the United States and Kenya — and all of Africa — from the millions of Americans who trace their ancestry to the African continent,” two national security aides to Mr. Obama, Grant Harris and Shannon Green, wrote on the White House website.

Mr. Obama’s father, Barack Obama Sr., was a Kenyan who came to the United States to study. While at the University of Hawaii, he met and married Stanley Ann Dunham, and the two had a son. The elder Mr. Obama returned to Kenya, and the two divorced; the younger Mr. Obama met his father only once after that, when he was 10 years old.

 The future president visited Kenya as a young man, a journey chronicled in his evocative 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” and he went again in 2006 as a senator. But Mr. Obama has remained largely distant from his Kenyan relatives in office and the White House could not say yet whether he would visit family during his trip.

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SOURCE: PETER BAKER
The New York Times

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