By now, Obama’s ties with Kenya are a well-known part of his unique family history. Barack Obama, Sr. was born in the western Kenyan village of Kogelo, moved to the U.S. to study, and met and married the president’s mother in Hawaii. He left the family soon after his son was born.
Obama made his first trip to Kenya in 1988, after his father’s death, and wrote extensively about the visit in his memoir “Dreams From My Father.”
“My name belonged and so I belonged, drawn into a web of relationships, alliances and grudges that I did not yet understand,” he wrote.
The president visited Kenya two more times, most recently in 2006 as a freshman senator. He was greeted by cheering crowds in the capital of Nairobi and in Kogelo, where he spent time with his grandmother and visited his father’s grave. He and wife Michelle Obama also publicly took HIV tests, part of their campaign at the time to reduce the stigma surrounding the virus.
But Obama’s nationally televised speech criticizing the government for failing to curb corruption or instill trust in its people earned him a cold shoulder from Kenya’s leadership. Kenya’s presidential spokesman said at the time that Obama was ignorant of Kenyan politics and had yet to form an understanding of foreign policy.
Kenya is an important strategic partner for the U.S. in East Africa. But the recent election has complicated the relationship.
Johnnie Carson, who until April served as head of the State Department’s Africa bureau, said in the lead-up to this year’s election that “choices have consequences,” a comment that was viewed as a warning against electing Kenyatta. His remarks were widely criticized as an inappropriate intrusion into a sovereign nation’s elections.
Kenyatta, the son of the country’s first president, has been charged by the ICC as an “indirect co-perpetrator” for the crimes of murder, deportation, rape, persecution and inhumane acts allegedly committed by his supporters in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. He insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
More than 1,000 people were killed in the ethnic violence that followed the flawed 2007 contest.
The ICC has pushed back the start of Kenyatta’s trial until Nov. 12. Kenyan deputy president William Ruto will also face similar charges at the international court in September.