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President Obama to Make First Official Trip to Sub-Saharan Africa

U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the West African nation of Ghana this week on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. Many Kenyans had expected Mr. Obama's first presidential trip to include the East African nation where he has family ties.

Victory was sweet for Kenyans in the early morning hours last November 5th, after American voters elected Barack Obama president of the United States.

The president's grandmother, Sarah Obama, still lives in the western village of Nyangoma-Kogelo where Mr. Obama's father, Barack Sr., was born and raised.

Many saw Mr. Obama's victory as signaling a new era in Kenya and the rest of Africa.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said in an interview late last year, "We want to see more access of African goods to the American markets, but we also, in the reciprocal times, like to see more foreign direct investment of Americans in Kenya."

As President Obama prepares for his trip to Ghana, questions are being raised about why he is not coming to Kenya.

Mwalimu Mati is CEO of the political watchdog Mars Group. He says, "I think in view of recent comments emanating from the State Department or even from the American Embassy in Nairobi, governance is a concern. That is the way that Kenyans are likely to interpret it: that there is something that our government is not doing and that is why they do not qualify for what would be probably one of the most obvious first trips that Barack Obama would make," says the political analyst.

The Kenyan government is under fire for the way it handled violence following the country's disputed elections in 2007. The mayhem pitted different political and ethnic groups against each another. Some 1,000 people died, and thousands fled their homes.

To restore stability, the top two candidates formed a coalition government that divided power and responsibilities between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, but political in-fighting and a series of scandals and protests have rocked the fragile coalition government.

"It is basically not respecting civil and political liberties," explains Mati, "It is embroiled in high-level corruption; this Grand Coalition government has not been performing well. I see it as being quite reasonable that he [Obama] would not want to be in the embarrassing position of having to castigate hosts, and castigation is deserved in this country," he says.

These include charges of police brutality, impunity by major political figures against charges of corruption and organized violence, and government misspending. But those in government circles say recent political events in Kenya have nothing to do with President Obama's decision to visit Ghana.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua says, "The American president has a choice of the countries to go to. He has not said that he is not going to come to Kenya. There is no understanding or written code that he has to come to Kenya on his first maiden trip."

Mutua says his government is making major progress in its reform efforts."We are already undertaking various programs in aspects of the tribunal - there are high level discussions going on, people know that. There is a lot of work that is being done about the reforms, the task force on the police; a lot of constitutional bodies are going on."

Others say that President Obama has strategic reasons for choosing Ghana over Kenya.

Attorney Kamotho Waiganjo is a political commentator and university lecturer.He says Ghana has a reputation of being a stable, successful democracy that respects institutions.

"Of course, there is also the traditional connection of America to Ghana, because, remember, Ghana was the "Slave Coast," as it were. That is the place through which a lot of Americans were shipped out from West Africa. So there is also that connection that is much bigger than President Obama's connection to Kenya," says Waiganjo.

Kenyans just have to wait for Mr. Obama to make his first visit as president to his father's homeland.