Five key moments in history that define Kenya-US ties 

What you need to know:

The US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) has been the main funder of HIV and Aids programmes in Kenya.

The 2008 US presidential election was followed keenly in Kenya because the son of a Kenyan was among the contestants.

Kenya and the United States have enjoyed a good relationship for decades. As the US marks its independence day on July 4, here are five key moments that have defined the relationship between the two countries. 

The Kennedy airlift

Eighty-one Kenyan students, including 13 women, arrived in New York City on September 11, 1959 destined for universities in America and Canada courtesy of scholarship and airlift programme that was initiated by the late statesman Tom Mboya, and supported by then senator John F. Kennedy, who later become the 35th President of the United States. At that time, the 28-year-old Mboya was a labour leader and a rising political star in Kenya's liberation movement. 

One of the over 800 students who benefited from this airlift was Miss Pamela Odede, who later became the wife of Mboya, a former minister in President Jomo Kenyatta’s first Cabinet.

Another well-known student was Barack Obama senior, the late father of the 44th US President Barack Obama, who joined the University of Hawaii. Obama Senior was not on the airlift, but a beneficiary of the goodwill of Americans towards African students, obtaining funds through different private sources including the African American Students Foundation (AASF), the body that handled the US side of the airlifts. 

Another prominent Kenyan who benefited from the programme was the late Prof Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

US embassy bombings

On August 7, 1998, the eighth anniversary of the deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia, US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed almost simultaneously. The attack in Nairobi caused greater devastation killing 247 Kenyans, 12 US citizens, 32 other nationals. About 5,000 Kenyans and 19 foreigners were injured in the incident.

Presidential Emergency Plan for Aids Relief 

The US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) has been the main funder of HIV and Aids programmes in Kenya. Since 2004, the initiative has spent over Sh701 billion in Kenya, providing life-saving antiretroviral treatment for over 1.2 million Kenyans, setting up nearly 4,000 HIV clinics and supporting about 732,000 orphans.  

2008 US presidential election

The 2008 US presidential election was followed keenly in Kenya because the son of a Kenyan was among the contestants. When Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, Kenya was put on the world map, giving the country a sense of pride.

President Obama is the son of the late Barack Obama senior, who was among Kenyans who benefited from the airlift program discussed at the start of this listicle. He became the first sitting US president to visit Kenya. His visit in July 2015, was aimed at strengthening economic ties and security. 

Lupita Nyong’o wins Oscar award

“...No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid,” said Lupita Nyong’o, during her acceptance speech for best supporting actress Oscar award, in 2014, for her portrayal of a slave named Patsey in Steve McQueen’s historical film 12 Years a Slave. She is the first black African and second African, after South African Charlize Theron, to win an Oscar.

Kenyans celebrated her win with President Kenyatta lauding her as the pride of Africa. Kenyans first took notice of Ms Nyong’o, who is the daughter of Kisumu Governor Prof Anyang Nyong’o, when she acted in the movie Shuga besides being featured in other short films. 
 

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