The White House announced Monday that President Barack Obama is traveling to Kenya, his father's homeland, in July.
This will be Obama's fourth visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president and his first to Kenya since he was first elected in 2008. Serge Yondou is a former communications specialist for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington. He says the trip to Kenya is significant.
“For Kenyans, I think the feeling right now is that he’s coming back home. For Africa, it really sends a strong message that Africa is still dear to the heart of President Obama," said Yondou.
Yondou says many Africans could not understand why President Obama did not visit Kenya much sooner.
“Now the time will make them understand that he wasn’t the African president of the U.S., but a U.S. president who happened to have an African father. And he came to power at such a challenging time when we had the financial and health crisis and two wars, so he had to fix that first," he said.
The news is exciting for people like Victoria Malowa, a Ph.D. graduate in international relations at the U.S. International University in Kenya. She says the impact of the first U.S. president with Kenyan roots visiting his ancestral homeland cannot be underestimated.
Malowa, however, says she is interested in how the visit will play out with the current Kenyan government, given how rocky bilateral relations have been.
“We are seeing that Obama is suddenly changing his tone in a very significant way. He suddenly wants to mend the relationship he’s had or his country had with Kenya. And that’s a very significant point there. He’s finally coming to shake hands with Uhuru Kenyatta. We all know how the American government has always voiced [concerns] over the issues of ICC, we know their stance," said Malowa.
The United States had a cool response to President Kenyatta's election in 2013 because he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity. The ICC dropped the charges last year.
Malowa says she hopes that President Obama’s visit will lead to changes in some U.S. policies toward Kenya.
“I would really like this visit to come and iron out the issues we have with the travel advisories because these advisories are really affecting our tourism industy. I would really like the U.S. government to change their tone. And secondly, I'd like this visit to help with coming together, come up with ideas to solve some of the security issues we are facing right now because Kenya is not only dealing with internal security matters but also dealing with Somalia and other neighbors," she said.
President Obama is expected to participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit while in Kenya. The event brings together business leaders, international organizations and governments, and this is the first time it will be held in sub-Saharan Africa.
The White House said it was not known yet if he will meet with relatives living in Kenya, including his grandmother and uncle who recently visited the United States.