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On A Visit To Kenya, Obama Addresses Fight Against Extremists


President Obama is in Nairobi, Kenya, this weekend, the first trip of any sitting president to Kenya and, for Barack Obama, a complicated visit to the country of his father's birth. NPR's Gregory Warner has been traveling with the president. Greg, I understand the first thing the president did after stepping off the airline was to meet with his extended family.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: That's right. He met with about three dozen relatives, some of whom he had never met, some he's known for decades like his half-sister Auma Obama. And then this morning, he opened the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit. This is a summit that he initiated in one very much in keeping with the president's foreign policy in Africa which is to build more trade relationships - this trade, not aid, approach - encouraging American private investment, especially in the next generation of African entrepreneurs, tech entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs.

RATH: Then the president got into a rather public disagreement with the Kenyan president over the issue of gay rights. Tell us about what happened.

WARNER: The gay rights issue was certain to come up. Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries, including Kenya. Although, we should say it's more complicated than that. This year, a prize-winning Kenyan novelist came out publicly as gay and then got into a Twitter fight with various public figures, including the vice president who said that there's no place for gays in Kenya. So it is a subject of vigorous debate in Kenya.

Anyway, at this bilateral press conference with the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, President Obama said that his position on gay rights in Africa was unequivocal. And he said when a government gets in the habit of treating any people differently, those habits can spread. The Kenyan president, though, immediately responded and said it would be very difficult for his government to impose on people what they do not accept.

RATH: Kenya has been hit by domestic terrorism, and it's an area where the country works closely with the U.S. But Western media took a hit for overplaying the terrorist threat in advance of the president's visit.

WARNER: I think for listeners who use Twitter, they might want to check out the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN. It's a hashtag that was born in Kenya. It's used a lot by Africans, not just Kenyan, to call out stereotypes about Africa in the Western media and not just CNN. Although, this case was a CNN headline that said something along the lines of security worries as president heads to Kenya, hotbed of terror, which, you know, is just not how Kenya feels to those of us who live here. And Twitter went crazy. And actually, CNN changed their headline. But of course, look, the terrorism threat is absolutely real, and the president spent a lot of time talking about counterterrorism and especially this thorny problem of how counterterrorism funding going to a military plagued by corruption might be worsening the terrorist threat, alienating further those groups in Kenya that - they're most prone to recruitment.

RATH: Obama also made a reference to his post-presidency and what he'll do and how it's going to include Africa.

WARNER: This was really surprising. He said next time you see me, I probably won't be wearing a suit and addressed specifically what has been some criticism, especially from his family and his home village area or his father's home village area that he didn't go upcountry to see them.


BARACK OBAMA: That's partly, actually, what I had to explain, was begging for forgiveness, that once I'm a private citizen, I will have more freedom to reconnect.

WARNER: And then the president sort of thought about his post-presidency, and he said that right now, as president, he's constrained to work directly with the government. But he's looking forward to working more freely and to directly continue his focus on young Africans and helping them succeed.

RATH: NPR's Gregory Warner traveling with President Obama in Nairobi, Kenya. Greg, thank you.

WARNER: Thanks Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.