KOGELO, KENYA — U.S. President Barack Obama begins his much-anticipated tour of Africa on June 27 with one glaring omission: the president will not be visiting Kenya, the birthplace of his father.
Obama's ancestral home is a tiny town called Kogelo in western Kenya. His name adorns schools and restaurants there and members of his family still live in the area.
And while many hoped he might visit the area on his tour of Africa, Obama will not be calling on Kogelo or any other place in Kenya. His only East African stop will be in neighboring Tanzania.
The president’s uncle, said the family will always welcome him home but has come to understand that the president has to represent American interests first.
“Many people thought that a lot of things will be coming around, which has not been the case. But I wouldn’t blame it on the president, it’s the American foreign policy, and we just have to accept that that’s the way it works,” stated Said Obama.
Obama last visited Kenya in 2006 when he was still a U.S. Senator. And while he is certainly under no obligation to visit the country again as a sitting president, his decision not to does raise questions about the strength of U.S.-Kenyan relations.
One challenge was the election in March of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The U.S. supports the ICC process, though it is not a signatory.
Adams Oloo, Political Science Chair at the University of Nairobi, said the U.S. president is likely trying to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. “I think it will look a little bit crude if he were to step into Kenya, it would be like endorsing their leadership. And I think, rather than be viewed that way, he’d rather skip Kenya and go to Tanzania instead.”
U.S. officials cautioned Kenyan voters ahead of the election that “choices have consequences” - a veiled warning that electing ICC indictees could compromise relations.
Government spokesman, Muthui Kariuki, said, despite the warning, relations with the U.S. are still good. And there are no hurt feelings about Obama’s itinerary. “This is not the first time an American president is coming to Africa and has not visited Kenya. We have no reason to worry and no, we are not disappointed," he said. "We continue with our business as usual.”
So for now, sleepy Kogelo will be spared the glitz and glamor of a presidential visit.
But it is still early in president Obama’s second term, and many here say “maybe next time.”