The much-awaited press briefing by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and US President Barack Obama took place at Nairobi State House grounds, immediately after bilateral talks between the two leaders.
Over 400 journalists attended the joint press briefing from both local and international media houses, cabinet secretaries among a host of other key personalities.
President Uhuru Kenyatta opened the press briefing by announcing that the two countries had signed a bilateral agreement that covered important issues of mutual benefit, before Obama took to the stand and detailed some of the agreements.
Questions by journalists were answered by the two leaders depending on who they were addressed to.
Here is a breakdown of the issues covered:
Security/ Fight against Terror
The two leaders confirmed that the US and Kenya have been working together in the fight against terror.
President Obama, however, announced that the two leaders had reached an agreement to deepen cooperation between the two countries.
He further announced that the two countries have signed an action plan to towards fighting terror and extremism. Particulars of the action plan include:
- Time sensitive and more open sharing of intelligence between Kenya and US security forces to enable more pro active measures against terrorism.
- Additional funding towards Kenyan security forces.
- Additional training for Kenyan security officers.
- Continue to cooperate with neighboring countries in East Africa to root out Al Shabaab capacity in Somalia
- Work towards strengthening of the Somalia government.
- Using social media to counter recruitment into terror groups and extremism.
The two leaders announced that they had appealed to Burundi leaders for peace as well as called on the leaders in opposing camps in South Sudan to work towards implementation of peace deals.
On the closely related issue of concerns around the abuse of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism, President Kenyatta said “Kenya has been a country that has respected all religions; this issue of terrorism is new to us. This is something that we are not familiar with.”
He however gave the assurance that Kenya is learning how to deal with the issue in more effective ways.
In a move that without a doubt comes as good news to most Kenyans seeking opportunities in the US, especially students, Obama announced that Kenya and the US had signed a deal that would see relaxation of visa rules.
Specifically, visa validity period for Kenyans traveling to the US has been increased to 5 years.
The signed bilateral agreement also includes partnerships between the two countries, aimed at promoting education especially for the girl child and protection of women against violence.
The agreement also included strengthening of existing entrepreneurship partnerships as well as promotion of new ones.
Obama pointed out that one of the biggest hindrances to economic growth is corruption.
Citing the example of how Chicago residents and Al Capone, he explained that fighting corruption is a cause that all Kenyans need to commit to, to eradicate the vice.
He called on the Kenyan government to put in place measures that will see visible prosecutions of corrupt individuals.
Obama also advised the Kenyan government to ensure it pays civil servants sustainable incomes and benefits so they don’t have to be corrupt to supplement their meager salaries.
Another key issue in the bilateral agreement was the establishment of direct flights between the US and Kenya which will go a long way into making trade between the two countries easier and cheaper.
Obama however declined to give an exact date of when the flights would begin citing protocol and due procedure.
On the issue of travel advisories, Obama said that it was a matter he does not weigh in, as it lies between the Intelligence and State Department.
He, however, admitted that he was aware that the travel advisories can at times be exaggerated, causing harm to the Kenyan economy which relies heavily on tourism.
He therefore offered to see to it that when they are given, the travel advisories are specific, as opposed
Gays and Lesbian Rights
The ongoing debate on Gays and Lesbian rights in Kenya was bound to come up in the press briefing and Obama had this to say.” I have been consistent across Africa with regards to the rights of Gays and Lesbians… I believe in the principle of treating people equally… The state should be consistent in not discriminating anyone despite their sexual orientation. The idea that someone should be treated differently because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.”
When asked the same question, President Kenyatta was categorical and firm that while the two countries may share some ideals, cultural aspects and belief systems are quite different.
As such, Kenyans cannot be forced into a matter that they do not accept, “We cannot impose on people to accept what they do not accept”
He maintained that the matter is a non- issue to Kenya, as the country is more focused on issues like education, infrastructure and so forth.
East vs. West
When asked whether his coming to Kenya was aimed at resetting the growing relationship between Kenya and the East, and instead focusing on Kenya and the West,
Obama began by explaining why he had only come to Kenya now- “I didn’t come earlier because I didn’t want to seem to be playing favorites just after winning the presidency”
Uhuru on the other hand sought to clarify that it is not a question of whether Kenya was headed to East or the West in terms of partnerships, but development opportunities that Kenya is seeking.
US Initiatives in Africa
Obama said that he is seeking to build on initiatives that previous governments had started in Africa.
Uhuru, while commending Obama, said the US President will be remembered most by Africans for his passion towards the youth and the initiatives he launched for young leaders and innovators.
Family Dinner and Subsequent visit
On a lighter note, Obama apologized to Kogello residents whom he said he knew had been waiting for his visit, which he could not honor due to presidential obligations.
He however promised to visit Kenya again, adding that on the subsequent visit- the US First Lady Mitchelle Obama and his daughters- Malia Obama and Sasha Obama would accompany him.
He further pledged that the philanthropic projects he has started in Africa will continue, even when he is no longer president of the United States.
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