Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama to skip Kenya on African tour

President Obama attending a press conference. He has invited Kenyans to send comments and questions via short message service on number 5683 ahead of his speech in Ghana on Saturday. Photo/ REUTERS

President Obama attending a press conference. He has invited Kenyans to send comments and questions via short message service on number 5683 ahead of his speech in Ghana on Saturday. Photo/ REUTERS 

By KEVIN J KELLEY and BERNARD NAMUNANE

President Barack Obama will skip Kenya during his maiden visit to Africa as US leader.

His decision to make Ghana his first African destination is being seen as a reward for one of the continent’s most stable and democratic countries. He is expected to hold talks with President John Atta Mills.

In skipping Kenya, the first African-American president is signalling that he puts political values over ancestral allegiances.

“The President and Mrs Obama look forward to strengthening US relations with one of our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and to highlighting the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development,” a White House statement said on Saturday.

However, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula on Sunday dismissed speculation that President Obama had snubbed Kenya, saying people should not assume that his first visit to the continent would be to his father’s homeland.

“This is a president of a sovereign country and we have no control over their decision-making process. It is not right for us to read so much into their plans,” he said.

He said Mr Obama has a special relationship with Kenya and will visit at an appropriate time.

“We all know that we reserve a special relation with the US President and at an appropriate time, he will visit Kenya.”

The father of the first black President of the US is a Kenyan from Kogelo and his grandmother Mama Sarah Obama attended Mr Obama’s inauguration in January this year.

The Government, in recognition, declared a one day holiday to celebrate Mr Obama’s victory after he beat Republican Party’s John McCain.

Mr Obama, who has proudly acknowledged his Kenyan roots, criticised the Kibaki administration over corruption when he visited Kenya in 2006 as the Senator for Illinois.

The July 10 visit, a one-day stop after a trip to Moscow on July 6 and to Italy on July 8, is likely to spark mass rejoicing in the West African country.

Ghana has transformed itself form a succession of military dictatorships to a strong and stable democracy with a fast growing economy.

President Mills last year succeeded President John Kuffuor who had served the maximum two terms since taking over from President Jerry Rawlings.

When Kenya’s disputed election sparked a violent confrontation, former President Kuffuor, then chairman of the African Union, was the first high-profile mediator to fly into the country before handing over the task to countryman and former UN chief Kofi Annan.

In recent weeks, the US has criticised the Kenyan government’s performance, warning against resurgence of strife.

Mr Johnnie Carson, President Obama’s top Africa official, recently made a stop in Nairobi where he delivered a stern warning to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to get the reform process on track or face unspecified sanctions.

Mr Carson, a former US envoy in Kenya, met both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga and passed to them a message from President Obama on the need to fast track reforms in the National Accord and the importance of tackling corruption.

“Kenya has endured a period of great strife and political violence since Mr Obama’s last visit,” The New York Times said in a report on Sunday.

President Obama may also be seeking to “avoid the spectacle of a longer journey to the continent dedicated to showcasing his family roots,” the Times added.

“His trip to his late father’s home country of Kenya while a senator in 2006 generated international attention even before he began running for president.”

Kenyans have high expectation from the Obama administration. The sudden change of life in Kogelo to a village of great potential since the election of President Obama has been taken as a signal of better things to come.

The US president is scheduled to hold bilateral talks in Accra, Ghana’s capital, with President Mills. Mr Obama also plans to tour Cape Coast, a former slave-trade hub.

Mr Odinga will be in the US this week, but there are no plans for him to meet with President Obama.

The Prime Minister will speak at a business convention in Chicago and give a lecture at the State University of New York.

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