Gay rights 'non-issue', Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta says ahead of Obama visit

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses a press conference at State House on July 21, 2015 on the upcoming visit by US President Barack Obama. Behind him is Deputy President William Ruto. PHOTO |JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • President Kenyatta said Mr Obama would meet all members of the government.
  • Kidala Vincent had promised to lead a march of "5,000 totally naked men and women" to protest Obama's support for gay rights.


President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday dismissed gay rights as a "non-issue" ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit later this week.

President Kenyatta also said Deputy President William Ruto, who is still on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague accused of crimes against humanity, would also meet the US leader.

"That is a non-issue to the people of this country, and it is definitely not on our agenda at all," President Kenyatta said in response to a question about gay rights.

"We as a country, as a continent, are faced with much more serious issues which we would want to engage the US and all our partners with," he said.

Mr Obama's planned Kenya visit was itself long delayed by President Kenyatta's indictment by the ICC.

Those charges, linked to post-election ethnic violence in 2007-08, were suspended last year — in part, prosecutors say, because the Kenyan government thwarted the investigation by intimidating or paying off witnesses.

President Kenyatta said Mr Obama would meet all members of the government.

"Without a doubt, he is coming to meet the government that is in place, that includes all of us," he told reporters, standing alongside Mr Ruto.

Mr Ruto has spoken out against homosexuality, telling worshippers in church early this month it was "against the plan" of God.

"We have heard that in the US they have allowed gay relations and other dirty things," Mr Ruto said, according to the Nation newspaper.


Homophobia is on the rise across much of Africa and homosexuality remains illegal in many countries, including Kenya, where it was outlawed under British colonial legislation.

In conservative Christian and Muslim countries in Africa, homophobia is a vote-winner.

One Kenyan man, Kidala Vincent, had promised to lead a march of "5,000 totally naked men and women" to protest

Mr Obama's support for gay rights, so that he can "see and understand the difference between a man and woman".

President Kenyatta spoke candidly about the expected bilateral engagement with the American leader revealing that the one on one talks between them at State House on Friday would focus on trade, security and corruption among other things.

Kenya is expecting support from the US government on its war on terror and Mr Obama’s coming is expected to give sufficient attention to the subject during the visit.

Mr Ruto stood next to the President in the company of 10 Cabinet secretaries as he enumerated the focus of Mr Obama visit and the importance of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).

“Late on the first day of the event, President Obama and I will also hold bilateral talks, the better to strengthen ties between our nations,” President Kenyatta said.


Rallying Kenyans to give the American leader a befitting reception when he lands in Nairobi, President Kenyatta said his government has worked hard to ensure Mr Obama's visit remains historical.

He said Kenya was keen to maintain the existing diplomatic relationships, adding that the country has benefited a lot from the warm relationship between the two countries.

“I scarcely need to mention that our friendship with the United States of America dates back to the days before independence, and that it has remained strong into the present,” the President said.

He mentioned the US as leading partner in trade adding that it was currently ranked the second trading partner with volumes accounting to over Sh 30 billion annually.

“Our textiles find a ready market in that country; our natural heritage brings many American visitors each year. Of course, there remains scope for better, more diversified, trade and investment in energy, in technology, and in manufacturing,” he said.

President Kenyatta also said that reputation for innovation and enterprise was getting recognised globally adding that the habit of risk taking by many Kenyans was encouraging.

“That same spirit inspired the young Kenyans who crafted the Ushahidi app. It inspired Kennedy Odede, founder of SHOFCO, and winner of Forbes’ top 30 under 30 prize. And it is that very same resolve which drove Dr Simon Gicharu, founder of Mt Kenya University, and Ernst & Young’s 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year,” the President said.


The President also said that he would engage President Obama on expediting requests by Kenya for direct flights into the US that the American government has been reluctant to grant on security grounds.

Confirming that 1,400 entrepreneurs had confirmed they would participate in the GES the President hailed the idea of co-hosting the event with the US in Kenya, adding that it would be a great opportunity for emerging entrepreneurs not only in Kenya but on the entire continent.

“I am glad to say that (the) government, and our partners, have devoted great care to these arrangements, and that our work has been rewarded with commitments from 1,400 participants and a large delegation from the United States, accompanying President Obama,” he said.

"The fight against terror will be central, we have been working in very close cooperation with American agencies," he added.

Kenya has been hit by a string of attacks by Somali-led Al-Shabaab insurgents.

Mr Obama's visit will be his fourth to Africa since becoming US president, but his first to Kenya, his father's birthplace, since taking office in 2009. He will travel on to Ethiopia.


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