U.S. Senator Barack Obama, on a visit to Kenya, told journalists in Nairobi Friday that Kenya had made great strides toward multiparty democracy but must also face up to the issue of corruption. The senator, whose father was born in Kenya, received a warm welcome.
Senator Obama says he has been awed by the welcome he has received at the start of his four-day visit to Kenya. His father was born in a village in the western part of the country and the Kenyan people have embraced the senator as one of their own. The country's two leading newspapers had the same banner headline: "Obama Arrives."
In his remarks to reporters, Obama said he had seen extraordinarily positive signs for the future of the country. He said Kenya had suffered very little ethnic conflict and was successfully moving toward a multiparty democratic system. He also praised Kenya's civil society, saying its freedom of press, protest and worship rivaled any country in the world.
But he also drew attention to the problem of corruption in Kenya. His news conference came after a meeting with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, and the senator said he raised the issue of corruption with him, telling the president that it is one of the major impediments for foreign investors interested in Kenya. Addressing this problem, he said, is crucial to Kenya's future.
"Kenya does not yet have the kind of transparent accountable government that encourages development," said Senator Obama. "The fact is that on every level the people of Kenya still suffer through corruption."
Senator Obama also said the United States must not let the situation in Iraq blind it to problems elsewhere in the world. As an example, he cited U.S. foreign policy toward Somalia, where Islamists have gained control of most the country and raised concerns about possible links they may have to al-Qaida. Obama said the U.S. Congress should investigate how they were able to gain such power.
"It makes sense for us to find how did that happened and what kinds of misjudgments might have been made that led to that situation," he added. "Some of it, I might add, is just neglect. The United States has been, understandably, paying so much attention to Iraq [that] we have not spent as much time thinking about future problems and have been entirely bogged down in thinking about past problems."
Obama, however, praised the Bush administration's commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS. He said the president had made a significant impact by increasing funding for the prevention and treatment of the disease from $200 million to $330 million a year.
During his visit, Senator Obama will meet with Kenyan Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai and plant a tree together with her in Uhuru Park to mark his and America's continued commitment to Kenya.