Sen. Barack Obama Meets Kenyan President

Friday, August 25, 2006

By CHRISTOPHER WILLS, Associated Press Writer

NAIROBI, Kenya — Sen. Barack Obama met Kenya's president and survivors of a terrorist bombing and was greeted by cheering crowds wherever he went Friday on his first visit to his father's native land since he was elected.

As Obama rushed from meeting to meeting, well-wishers shouted out his name and stretched to shake his hand as police armed with batons kept watch.

Lucy Kagai and her young son, Dennis Munene, spent more than an hour pressed up against a fence waiting for Obama to emerge from a lunch meeting. When he finally came out, the crowd of perhaps 200 cheered and pushed forward, scaring the boy into tears.

Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, made a point of saying hello to Dennis, but it did not seem to make much difference. The boy was still crying afterward. His mother was thrilled, though.

Like others in the crowd, she considers Obama a son of Kenya, although he grew up in America and barely knew his Kenyan father, a goat herder who went on to become a Harvard-educated government economist for his native country.

Many people said they think Obama's presence in theSenate will somehow help Kenya.

"Blood is thicker than water, and he has to do something about this land,"said Nicholas Kasinga, a Nairobi accountant."He can advocate for this land, economically and politically."

Obama said he is happy to serve as a sort of bridge between Kenya and the United States, but he cautioned that his first duty is to Illinois.

In fact, his message throughout his tour of Africa is that its people and governments must show a determination to solve their own problems before the rest of the world can help.

Obama started the day with a closed-door meeting with President Mwai Kibaki.

He said he urged the president to fight government corruption and street crime, warning that the two problems discourage foreign investment and growth of the Kenyan economy.

"It's hard to know whether or not that single conversation is going to have a significant impact,"Obama said."The president agreed ... and said this is something we're committed to reducing. So the question then is, is there follow-through?"

In a statement after the meeting, Kibaki said he talked with Obama about working with his late father.

Obama also met with the leader of Kenya's opposition party, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Obama's wife and two daughters joined him for a visit to a memorial park built where the U.S. embassy once stood. It was destroyed in 1998 by an al-Qaida bombing that killed 248 people.

Obama called it a trial run for the Sept. 11 attacks three years later.

"We will not forget what has happened here,"Obama said after laying a wreath at the memorial listing the names of the dead.

Obama spoke with several survivors of the bombing, including George Mimba, a Kenyan who still works as computer manager for the embassy. He told Obama about the horror of the explosion and the struggle to rescue other survivors.

"The world just came down on me,"Mimba recalled.

This is Obama's first trip to Kenya since he was elected to the Senate two years ago, becoming its only black member.

His two-week tour is taking him to South Africa, Kenya and Chad to study issues such as AIDS, government corruption and the status of Sudanese refugees.

Obama promised to seek more attention in Congress for several African issues when he returns to Washington. He called for a hearing on U.S. policy on Ethiopia and its turmoil, and said he has questions about how Islamic groups with potential links to al-Qaida gained power in Somalia.

On Saturday, Obama will visit the rural area where his father grew up and his grandmother and other relatives still live. He also get an AIDS test as an example to reluctant Kenyans.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

SEARCH