NAIROBI, Kenya - President Barack Obama opened a visit to Africa Saturday with a nod to his roots and a call for countries to support entrepreneurship with open government and transparency.
Speaking before an audience of African entrepreneurs at a summit launched by the White House, Obama acknowledged his Kenyan roots and spoke a few words of Swahili, but said, “I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move.”
Introduced at the event as a “son of Kenyan soil,” Obama said the visit is “personal for me. There’s a reason why my name is Barack Hussein Obama. My father came from these parts. I have family and relatives here.”
Obama’s two-day visit to Kenya – his first as president – has been hailed as historic by Kenyans and Obama said he hopes it spurs trade and investment in the country and on the African continent.
He noted that Nairobi on his last visit a decade ago “looked very different. Imagine what could happen if more global business leaders, global capital paid a visit, rather than being blinded by stereotypes” that often depict only conflict across the continent.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and event host Julie Gichuru took swipes at CNN, which has come under withering criticism in Kenya for a report dubbing Kenya as a “hotbed” for terror. The al-Qaida linked al-Shabab group based in Somalia has carried out several attacks in neighboring Kenya, including one in April that killed 148 at Garissa University College.
“If Kenya is a ‘hotbed’, it is a hotbed of budding entrepreneurs,” Gichuru said. “A hotbed of zeal and energy.”
“Kenya is a hotbed of vibrant culture, spectacular natural beauty, wonderful people,” Kenyatta said.
Obama hailed entrepreneurship as the “spark of prosperity” that helps people stand up for their rights “and push back against corruption” - which is rife in many African countries.
“In order to create successful entrepreneurs, the government also has a role in creating the transparency and the rule of law, the ease of doing business and the anti-corruption agenda that creates a platform for people to succeed,” he said.
Obama announced what he said was more than $1 billion in new commitments from banks, foundations, philanthropists, and the U.S. government, with half going to support youth and women entrepreneurs.
The commitments include the Overseas Private Investment Corporation supporting up to $200 million for lending of $450 million in foreign currency to small and medium enterprises over the next five years.
Private commitments include Chase Bank Kenya which says it will lend more than $580 million to entrepreneurs with small and medium enterprises, with a focus on youth and women.