President Uhuru Kenyatta is hoping that the US will offer more help in the fight against Al-Shabaab when he meets President Barack Obama this week.
Explaining what he expects to discuss with Mr Obama, who is to arrive on Friday for a three-day visit, Mr Kenyatta said that the US is a leading partner in trade, accounting for more than Sh30 billion worth of business every year.
“Our textiles find a ready market in that country, our natural heritage brings many American visitors each year. Of course, there remains scope for better, more diversified, trade and investment in energy, in technology and in manufacturing,” he said in a televised address and press conference at State House, Nairobi, on Tuesday.
He was briefing the country on the visit as preparations for Mr Obama’s arrival were at their peak. He asked Kenyans to give the US leader a warm welcome.
The President also said Deputy President William Ruto would be in the government delegation that will meet Mr Obama. Western leaders have been avoiding meetings with Kenyan leaders standing trial at the Hague.
Pressed by reporters, Mr Kenyatta said the question of homosexuals, whose rights Mr Obama strongly supports, was a “non-issue” as far as the talks are concerned.
He dwelt at length on issues of substance that might form the agenda of bilateral talks between the two governments.
Mr Kenyatta said Kenya’s reputation for innovation and enterprise was getting recognised globally.
“That same spirit inspired the young Kenyans who crafted the Ushahidi app. It inspired Kennedy Odede, founder of Shofco, and winner of Forbes’ top 30 under 30 prize,” said the President.
He also pledged to engage Mr Obama on expediting requests by Kenya for direct flights to and from the US, which the American government has been reluctant to grant on security grounds.
Confirming that 1,400 entrepreneurs had confirmed participation in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, the President hailed the idea of co-hosting the event with the US in Kenya, adding that it will be a great opportunity for emerging entrepreneurs, not only in Kenya, but the entire continent.
“I am glad to say that the government, and our partners, have devoted great care to these arrangements, and that our work has been rewarded with commitments from 1,400 participants — and a large delegation from the United States, accompanying President Obama,” he said.
Among the key officials in Mr Obama’s delegation are his national security advisor, Ms Susan Rice — who will spearhead discussions on security — and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
Kenyan opposition leaders have said that they will ask Mr Obama to put pressure on the government to address corruption and respect democracy.
On Tuesday, Mr Kenyatta insisted that his government would win the war on corruption and terrorism.
“There are those among us who still hope to pervert public enterprise for private ends. My administration has led the war against them; their corrupt schemes will fail. Our country has endured the attacks of depraved, ideological criminals,” he said.
Journalists pressed him to comment on how he would react if the American leader — whose country has been compelled by the supreme court to respect gay rights — raised the issue.
“The gay issue is a non-issue to the people of this country. This is not in our agenda at all. We have very important things to talk about during the visit,” he said.
The President said that the choice of Kenya as the venue for the summit is a telling statement that illuminates the country’s progress, potential and leadership on the continent.
At the press conference, Mr Ruto, whose role during the visit has been surrounded by speculation and debate, stood on the President’s right.
“As far as I am concerned the President of the US is coming to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. He is coming to meet the government of Kenya and that includes the Deputy President,” Mr Kenyatta said. “The last time I checked, the Deputy President was still part of this government.”
Mr Ruto is has been charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court and the world will be watching how close he will come to engaging the American leader.
In the run-up to the last elections, the US and EU envoys warned Kenyans against electing ICC suspects to the presidency, saying that “choices have consequences”.
However, it appears that the Jubilee administration has significantly repaired relations with Washington, particularly after the ICC terminated the case against Mr Kenyatta last year.