President Obama leaves Thursday night on a trip that will take him back to his father’s homeland, while at the same time making him the first sitting president to visit two key East African nations: Kenya and Ethiopia.
The president’s first stop is Kenya. He will not visit his father’s ancestral village, administration officials say, citing security and logistical reasons. But he will meet privately with relatives, who may well include his father’s second wife; Obama’s step-grandmother, known as Mama Sarah; and his half-sister Auma Obama.
Obama has visited Kenya before — the first time in 1987, and later as a U.S. senator. That first visit was a major theme of his book, Dreams From My Father, in which Obama detailed his metaphorical search for his father, a Kenyan college student who married Obama’s mother and left them both in Hawaii when Obama was a child.
This time Obama’s trip will almost certainly be less a revisiting of his roots, than an official visit by a state leader. He will attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, be honored at a state dinner and hold a joint news conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Obama will also take part in a “civil society event” on Sunday, in which he will address the topics of wildlife trafficking, girls’ education and countering violent extremism.
Obama’s meetings with Kenyatta will be challenging, as they will be when he meets with Ethiopia’s leaders on the second stop of his trip. Both governments have been accused of rampant corruption and human-rights abuses; Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was re-elected with an implausible 100 percent of the vote and his government has been arresting journalists.
Rice said the president will not hesitate to raise concerns about the countries’ human-rights records, and that when there are concerns, “We raise them directly and clearly both in public and private.”
Obama will also address terrorism in his two stops. Rice said in Nairobi, he will pay respect to the victims of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. In Ethiopia, Obama will address the African Union and take part in a summit of regional leaders, where countering the threat posed by al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliate based in East Africa, will be on the agenda.