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Obama’s Africa visit starts witha family reunion

Julie Pace
Associated Press

Nairobi, Kenya — Fulfilling the hopes of millions of Kenyans, Barack Obama returned to his father’s homeland Friday for the first time as U.S. president, a long sought visit by a country that considers him a local son.

The president spent the evening reuniting with his Kenyan family, including his elderly step-grandmother who made the trip to the capital of Nairobi from her rural village. The meeting, which wasn’t on the president’s official schedule, took place shortly after he landed in Nairobi.

After a formal greeting from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and other officials, and Obama’s half-sister, Auma Obama, the U.S. president headed to his hotel. There, he was joined for dinner by about three-dozen relatives, according to the White House.

U.S. and Kenyan flags lined the main road from Nairobi’s airport, and billboards heralding Obama’s trip dotted the city.

“I don’t think that Kenyans think of Obama as African-American. They think of him as Kenyan-American,” said EJ Hogendoorn, deputy program director for Africa at the International Crisis Group.

Obama’s link to Kenya is a father he barely knew, but whose influence can nonetheless be seen in his son’s presidency.

Obama has spoken candidly about growing up without his Kenyan-born father and feeling “the weight of that absence.” A White House initiative to support young men of color who face similar circumstances has become a project dear to Obama, one he plans to continue after leaving the White House.

In Africa, Obama has used his late father’s struggle to overcome government corruption as a way to push leaders to strengthen democracies. He’s expected to make good governance and democracy-building a centerpiece of his two days of meetings and speeches in Nairobi, as well as a stop next week in Ethiopia.

The president is traveling with nearly two dozen U.S. lawmakers, along with 200 U.S. investors attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Bloomberg News contributed.