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Obama addresses Kenyans as he wraps up landmark visit

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President Obama addresses Kenyans at Kasarani Stadium/CFM

President Obama addresses Kenyans at Kasarani Stadium/CFM

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 26 – US President Barack Obama wraps up a two-day landmark visit to Kenya on Sunday, boosting business and security ties but with firm messages on gay rights and corruption.

Obama, who meets Sunday with members of Kenya’s vibrant civil society – bearing the brunt of what they say are increased restrictions as Kenya fights its own “war on terror” – is to make a keynote address to the country.

Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab have also been at the top of the list of security concerns during the visit, with Obama and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledging greater cooperation in tackling the threat.

Thousands gathered Sunday morning at an indoor arena at Nairobi’s Kasarani stadium complex – an area used to hold hundreds of ethnic Somalis during controversial mass arrests following the 2013 Somali-led Shabaab assault on the Westgate shopping mall in central Nairobi that killed 67.

Shabaab fighters have staged a string of suicide attacks and bombings on Kenyan soil, including the April massacre at Garissa university, in which 148 people died.

“We have systematically reduced the territory that Al-Shabaab controls,” Obama said in a joint press conference after bilateral talks with Kenyatta on Saturday. “That doesn’t mean the problem is solved.”

But Obama also stressed the importance of protecting basic rights, comparing homophobia in Africa to racial discrimination he had encountered in the United States.

“As an African-American in the United States I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently under the law. I am unequivocal on this,” Obama said, openly disagreeing with Kenyatta.

Homophobia is on the rise in Africa, and espousing evangelical Christian values is a major vote winner in many countries. Kenyatta replied by repeating the view that gay rights were unacceptable to Kenyans and therefore “a non-issue”.

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After pledging stronger business ties and aid for entrepreneurs, he also called for firm action on endemic corruption, calling it “the single biggest impediment to Kenya growing even faster”.

Obama arrived in Kenya late on Friday, his first visit as president to his father’s birthplace and the first to the East African nation by a serving US leader.

Nairobi has witnessed a massive security operation, with parts of the usually traffic-clogged capital locked down.

He leaves later Sunday for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where he will also be the first US leader to address the African Union.

– ‘Africa rising, but get tough on corruption’ –

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