- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2015

Amid security concerns and limits on his travel, President Obama will nonetheless get to spend time with several members of his extended family when he visits his father’s homeland of Kenya Friday for the first time as sitting president.

The president is expected to enjoy a family reunion of sorts at a state dinner in his honor in Nairobi, and aides say he might have other opportunities to see relatives during the visit. Mr. Obama departed Washington Thursday night on a trip that will also take him to Ethiopia, making him the first U.S. president to visit either country.

“He’s looking forward to the trip and the opportunity to spend some time in private with some of his relatives,” said White House National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice.

The president’s father, Barack Obama Sr., was born in Kenya in 1936, when it was still a British colony. Due in part to his father’s life story, the president’s family history is complicated and his relatives are widely dispersed.

After meeting and marrying Stanley Ann Dunham in Hawaii and fathering the future president with her in 1961, the elder Obama returned to Kenya in 1964. He had two sons with another woman, Ruth Baker, and a fourth son with a woman named Jael Otieno in Kenya.

The president’s father died in a car crash in Nairobi in 1982, and the president remembers meeting him only once, at age 10, when his father visited him in Hawaii for about a month.

The president’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, worked as a cook for a British military officer during World War II. He took the name Hussein when he converted to Islam.

Mr. Obama’s oldest living relative is his stepgrandmother, Sarah Onyango Obama, who is 94 and lives in Kogelo in western Kenya. She was the third wife of Mr. Obama’s grandfather, and is known among locals as “Mama Sarah.” The president calls her “Granny.”

Half-uncle Said Obama, 50, runs a supply business and cybercafe in Kisumu. There’s also a half-uncle named Yusuf, about whom little is known.

In addition, the president has four half-brothers in Kenya — Malik, Abo, Bernard and George — and a half-sister, Auma. Malik Obama ran for political office in Kenya in 2013, but lost the election.

Due to logistics and security concerns, aides said the president won’t visit the village of Kogelo where his father grew up. The village has a population of about 3,000, and got grid electricity only in 2008, and piped water even more recently.

The official reason for Mr. Obama’s visit is to address the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. And while there’s euphoria among Kenyans for his visit, some observers say Mr. Obama needs to bring more to the table than his family roots.

“He needs to earn the Obama mania a little,” said Brian Dooley, an official with Human Rights First who visited Kenya a few weeks ago. “He can’t just turn up and expect to be welcomed as a prodigal son. Some people are not happy that he’s taken so long as president to visit Kenya, and there is some irritation too that Nairobi would essentially be closed down during the time of his visit, that the cellphone network will be suspended, and that traffic will stop. So he needs to, I think, earn a bit of popularity and not take it for granted.”

Jedidah Waruhiu of the National Commission on Human Rights in Kenya urged the president to use his Kenyan ancestry as a platform to call for reforms in the democratic government that’s rife with corruption.

“The problem about corruption is that it has really compromised our security agents, especially in areas that are worsened incidences of terror, particularly in the north, and other organized crime,” she said. “It’s important for the Kenyan people that they see Obama coming home as a son of this country. But more importantly in his homecoming, clearly stand up and speak truth to human rights and principles and values in terms of why democracy is important for this county.”

The president, in a signed op-ed Thursday on the website The Root, which targets a largely black readership, said he planned to do just that.

“Some African nations have made impressive progress on these fronts,” Mr. Obama wrote. “Others have not. My trip will be an opportunity to address these issues candidly, both publicly and privately in my meetings with leaders.”

The president’s ancestral homeland is also dealing with a surge of Islamist terrorism, with al-Shabaab militants largely based in neighboring Somalia posing a constant threat in Kenya, carrying out murderous attacks at a fashionable shopping mall and at a university in the past year. In the past week, the U.S. military has conducted nearly a half-dozen secret airstrikes in Somalia against al Qaeda’s Africa affiliate because U.S. intelligence indicated an attack against Kenyan troops there was imminent, CNN reported, citing defense officials.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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