October 24, 2021

President Obama’s Trip to Kenya Doesn’t Go As Planned When His Speech Causes a Backlash

President Obama’s Trip to Kenya Doesn’t Go As Planned When His Speech Causes a BacklashWhile visiting his father’s homeland of Kenya Saturday, President Obama thought it would be prudent to give the nation’s leaders a speech on LGBT rights – equating it to legalized racism in the United States:

President Obama said, according to CNN:

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen. And when a government gets in a habit of people treating people differently, those habits can spread.”

The comment was made during a joint press conference between Obama and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta didn’t seem to be thrilled with his counterpart’s remarks, replying back:

“The fact of the matter is Kenya and the U.S. share so many values: common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families — these are some things that we share. But there are some things that we must admit we don’t share, our culture, our societies don’t accept.

“It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept.. This is why I repeatedly say for Kenyans today the [gay rights issue] is generally a non-issue. We want to focus on other areas.”

Sexual activity between two individuals of the same gender is illegal and punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 14 years in most cases, according to Kenya’s penal code.

Even if Kenyatta – whose family has not always been on the best of terms with the Obamas – wanted to heed the American president’s advice and adopt LGBT reforms in the African nation, he would be in the minority.

According to a 2007 Pew Global study, 96% of Kenyans surveyed believe that homosexuality should be rejected – a stark contrast to the 41% of Americans who felt the same way at the time. A 2011 study published by the non-governmental Kenya Human Rights Commission also found that among the Kenyans who came out or were outed to their family members, 89% of them were later disowned.

The two leaders went on to discuss several other topics during their joint press conference, including Kenya’s economy, their shared fight against terrorism in Africa and – of course – Obama’s connection to the African nation.

But as Kenyatta noted in his response, Obama could have brought up several other key items of interest:

  • Poverty – UNICEF reports that 43.4% of Kenya’s population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25/day, compared with just 4% of Americans.
  • HIV/AIDs – Among Kenyans adults, 6.1% of the population suffers from the disease. In comparison, less than 1% of Americans currently suffer from the disease, according to UNICEF.
  • Infant/Child Mortality – In Kenya, 49 in 1,000 infants typically die before the age of 1, and approximately 108,000 children each year will die before the age of 5. In the United States, just 6 in 1,000 infants typically die before their first birthday, with about 29,000 children dying before they turned 5.

Obama still has two more days in Africa, so perhaps one of these topics will come up during that time.