NAIROBI, Kenya, May 21 – Kenya has played down the decision by US President Barrack Obama to snub it once again on his scheduled tour of Africa, saying it was “fine”.
Government spokesman Muthui Kariuki told AFP that Kenya was not worried or concerned by Obama’s decision since the US leader was free to visit wherever he wanted.
Kenya at the same time rejected claims that he would bypass the country due to the upcoming trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto for alleged crimes against humanity.
“Kenya is moving on with its development agenda and we continue being part of the League of Nations. We are not worried that he is not coming to Kenya. We are fine,” Kariuki told AFP.
“There have been rumours that President Obama is avoiding Kenya because of the ongoing ICC cases. These are unfounded accusations.”
A White House official was earlier quoted saying that Obama would side-step Nairobi due to the ICC cases as “it would be unseemly for him to appear with ICC indictees.”
A cross section of Kenyans interviewed on Obama’s decision argued that the ICC should not be used as an excuse to continue giving Kenya the cold shoulder because Kenyatta and Ruto were elected despite the looming ICC trials.
Majority of those who spoke to Capital FM News felt that the US and other western countries needed Kenya as much as Kenya needs them and should stop hiding behind the ICC banner.
“A time will come when he (Obama) will need Kenya and he needs to remember that Kenyans’ lives were still going on even before he took over office from George Bush,” argued Mavado Ondivo.
“We are okay with our President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto whether Obama comes here or not,” said businessman Paul Makhanu.
“We elected our president and whether the ICC comes or goes he is our president. We have already seen what is happening to the ICC case,” added a teacher from Murang’a County Charles Karanja.
Obama is scheduled to travel to Senegal, Tanzania and South African between June 26 and July 3 this year.
Kenyans further made reference to Obama’s familial roots in Kogelo saying time had come for him to visit Kenya.
“I think what Obama has done is very unwise. This was his chance to come but he has decided to once again duck and this is his home,” said Rodgers Wandera.
“Why does he keep snubbing us? If he wants a chicken we will give it to him so that he can take it back to America.”
The debate also dominated discussions on social media as some felt that Obama had no obligation to Kenya while others remained indifferent to the news.
“Look folks, he’s the President of the United States. Not your uncle from K’Ogello. He has no obligation to KE. Why’s this hard to understand?” asked Ramah Nyang’ on Twitter.
“So I find nothing exceptional with Obama skipping – behind the scenes he is giving back to Kenya,” argued Dennis Itumbi.
When reached for comment, US Ambassador Robert Godec said that the US valued the relationship with Kenya and was committed to the long-standing partnership.
“We regret that the president cannot travel to every country; but our longstanding commitment remains to all of our African partners, and to the people of Africa, as we look to deepen our partnership with nations across the region,” his response to our queries said.
He added that Obama would travel to South Africa, Senegal, and Tanzania “to reinforce and advance economic growth in Africa.”
He explained that the agenda was also to increase trade and investment while engaging the next generation of African leaders, creating an impression that the US was looking for other African countries with whom to partner with to push its agenda.
He went on to disclose that it was not clear if Obama would visit Kenya in the near future.