The President Speaks to the Kenyan People

The President Speaks to the Kenyan People


President Obama: Hey! Audience: Hey! President Obama: Habari Zenu! (applause) Wakenya mpo? (applause) It is great
to be back in Kenya. Thank you so much for this
extraordinary welcome. I know it took a few years,
but as President I try to keep my promises, and I said I was
going to come, and I’m here. (applause) Everybody, go ahead
and have a seat. I’m going to be
talking for a while. (laughter) Relax. I want to thank my sister, Auma,
for a wonderful introduction. I’m so glad that she could
be with us here today. And it was — as she said,
it was Auma who first guided me through Kenya
almost 30 years ago. To President Kenyatta, I
want to thank you once again for the hospitality that
you’ve shown to me — (applause) — and for our work
together on this visit, and for being here today.
It’s a great honor. I am proud to be the
first American President to come to Kenya — (applause) — and, of course, I’m
the first Kenyan-American to be President of
the United States. (laughter and applause) That goes without saying. Audience Member:
I love you, Obama! President Obama:
I love you back. (applause) I do. But, as Auma was
saying, the first time I came to Kenya, things
were a little different. When I arrived at
Kenyatta Airport, the airline lost my bags. (laughter) That doesn’t happen
on Air Force One. (laughter) They always have my
luggage on Air Force One. (laughter) As she said, Auma
picked me up in an old Volkswagon Beetle, and
think the entire stay I was here it broke down
four or five times. (laughter) We’d be on the highway,
we’d have to call the juakali — he’d
bring us tools. We’d be sitting
there, waiting. And I slept on a cot
in her apartment. Instead of eating at
fancy banquets with the President, we were drinking
tea and eating Ugali — (laughter) — and Sukumawiki. So there wasn’t a
lot of luxury. Sometimes the
lights would go out. They still do — is
that what someone said? (laughter) But there was something
more important than luxury on that first trip,
and that was a sense of being recognized, being seen. I was a young man and I was just
a few years out of University. I had worked as a community
organizer in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago. I was about to go
to law school. And when I came here, in
many ways I was a Westerner, I was an American, unfamiliar
with my father and his birthplace, really disconnected
from half of my heritage. And at that airport, as I was
trying to find my luggage, there was a woman there who
worked for the airlines, and she was helping
fill out the forms, and she saw my name and she
looked up and she asked if I was related to my
father, who she had known. And that was the first time
that my name meant something. (applause) And that
was recognized. And over the course
of several weeks, I’d meet my brothers
and aunts and uncles. I traveled to Alego, the village
where my family was from. I saw the graves of my
father and my grandfather. And I learned things
about their lives that I could have never
learned through books. And in many ways, their lives
offered snapshots of Kenya’s history, but they also told us
something about the future. My grandfather, for example,
he was a cook for the British. And as I went through some
of his belongings when I went up-country, I found
the passbook he had had to carry as a
domestic servant. It listed his age and
his height, his tribe, listed the number of
teeth he had missing. (laughter) And he was referred
to as a boy, even though he was a grown
man, in that passbook. And he was in the King’s
African Rifles during the Second World War, and
was taken to the far reaches of the British Empire —
all the way to Burma. And back home after the war,
he was eventually detained for a time because he was
linked to a group that opposed British rule. And eventually
he was released. He forged a home for
himself and his family. He earned the respect
of his village, lived a life of dignity —
although he had a well-earned reputation for being so strict
that everybody was scared of him and he became estranged
from part of his family. So that was his story. And then my father came
of age as Kenyans were pursuing independence, and
he was proud to be a part of that liberation
generation. And next to my
grandfather’s papers, I found letters that he
had written to 30 American universities asking for a
chance to pursue his dream and get a scholarship. And ultimately, one university
gave him that chance — the University in Hawaii. And he would go on to get an
education and then return home. And here, at first he found
success as an economist and worked with the government. But ultimately, he found
disappointment — in part because he couldn’t reconcile
the ideas that he had for his young country with
the hard realities that had confronted him. And I think sometimes about
what these stories tell us, what the history and the past
tell us about the future. They show the enormous
barriers to progress that so many Kenyans faced just
one or two generations ago. This is a young country. We were talking last
night at dinner — the President’s father was
the first President. We’re only a
generation removed. And the daily limitations —
and sometimes humiliations — of colonialism —
that’s recent history. The corruption and cronyism
and tribalism that sometimes confront young nations
— that’s recent history. But what these stories
also tell us is an arch of progress — from foreign
rule to independence; from isolation to education,
and engagement with a wider world. It speaks of
incredible progress. So we have to know
the history of Kenya, just as we Americans have to
know our American history. All people have to understand
where they come from. But we also have to
remember why these lessons are important. We know a history so that
we can learn from it. We learn our history because
we understand the sacrifices that were made before, so that
when we make sacrifices we understand we’re doing it on
behalf of future generations. There’s a proverb that says,
“We have not inherited this land from our forebears,
we have borrowed it from our children.” In other words, we study
the past so it can guide us into the future, and
inspire us to do better. And when it comes to the people
of Kenya — particularly the youth — I believe there is no
limit to what you can achieve. A young, ambitious Kenyan today
should not have to do what my grandfather did, and
serve a foreign master. You don’t need to do
what my father did, and leave your home in order
to get a good education and access to opportunity. Because of Kenya’s progress,
because of your potential, you can build your future
right here, right now. (applause) Now, like any
country, Kenya is far from perfect, but
it has come so far in just my lifetime. After a bitter struggle,
Kenyans claimed their independence just a few
years after I was born. And after decades
of one party-rule, Kenya embraced a multi-party
system in the 1990s, just as I was beginning
my own political career in the United States. Tragically, just
under a decade ago, Kenya was nearly torn apart
by violence at the same time that I was running for my
first campaign for President. And I remember hearing
the reports of thousands of innocent people being killed
or driven from their homes. And from a distance, it seemed
like the Kenya that I knew — a Kenya that was able
to reach beyond ethnic and tribal lines — that
it might split apart across those lines of
tribe and ethnicity. But look what happened. The people of Kenya chose not
to be defined by the hatreds of the past — you
chose a better history. (applause) The voices of
ordinary people, and political leaders and civil
society did not eliminate all these divisions, but you
addressed the divisions and differences peacefully. And a new constitution
was put in place, declaring that “every person
has inherent dignity — and the right to have that dignity
respected and protected.” A competitive election went
forward — not without problems, but without the violence
that so many had feared. In other words, Kenyans
chose to stay together. You chose the
path of Harambee. (applause) And in part because of
this political stability, Kenya’s economy is also emerging
— and the entrepreneurial spirit that people rely on
to survive in the streets of Kibera can now be seen in new
businesses across the country. (applause) From the city square
to the smallest villages, MPesa is changing the
way people use money. New investment is making Kenya
a hub for regional trade. When I came here as a U.S. senator, I pointed out that
South Korea’s economy was the same as Kenya’s when I
was born, and then was 40 times larger
than Kenya’s. Think about that. It started at the same place
— South Korea had gone here, and Kenya was here. But today, that gap has
been cut in half just in the last decade. (applause) Which means
Kenya is making progress. And meanwhile, Kenya continues
to carve out a distinct place in the community of nations:
As a source of peacekeepers for places torn apart by
conflict, a host for refugees driven from their homes. A leader for conservation,
following the footprints of Wangari Maathai. (applause) Kenya is one of the
places on this continent that truly observes
freedom of the press, and their fearless
journalists and courageous civil society members. And in the United States, we
see the legacy of Kip Keino every time a Kenyan wins
one of our marathons. (applause) And maybe the First
Lady of Kenya is going to win one soon. (laughter and applause) I told the President
he has to start running with his wife. (laughter) We want him to stay fit. (laughter) So there’s much
to be proud of — much progress
to lift up. It’s a good-news story. But we also know the
progress is not complete. There are still problems that
shadow ordinary Kenyans every day — challenges that can
deny you your livelihood, and sometimes deny you lives. As in America — and so many
countries around the globe — economic growth has not
always been broadly shared. Sometimes people at
the top do very well, but ordinary people
still struggle. Today, a young child in Nyanza
Province is four times more likely to die than a child
in Central Province — even though they are equal in
dignity and the eyes of God. That’s a gap that
has to be closed. (applause) A girl in Rift
Valley is far less likely to attend secondary school
than a girl in Nairobi. That’s a gap that
has to be closed. (applause) Across the country,
one study shows corruption costs Kenyans 250,000 jobs every
year — because every shilling that’s paid as a bribe could
be put into the pocket of somebody who’s actually
doing an honest day’s work. (applause) And despite the hard-earned
political progress that I spoke of, those
political gains still have to be protected. New laws and restrictions
could close off the space where civil society gives
individual citizens a voice and holds
leaders accountable. Old tribal divisions and
ethnic divisions can still be stirred up. I want to be very clear here —
a politics that’s based solely on tribe and ethnicity is
a politics that’s doomed to tear a country apart. (applause) It is a failure
— a failure of imagination. Of course, here, in Kenya,
we also know the specter of terrorism has touched
far too many lives. And we remember the Americans
and Kenyans who died side by side in the attack on
our embassy in the ’90s. We remember the innocent
Kenyans who were taken from us at Westgate Mall. We weep for the nearly 150
people slaughtered at Garissa — including so many students
who had such a bright future before them. We honor the memory of so
many other innocent Kenyans whose lives have been
lost in this struggle. So Kenya is at a crossroads
— a moment filled with peril, but also enormous promise. And with the rest of
my time here today, I’d like to talk about how
you can seize the moment, how you can make sure we leave
behind a world that’s better — a world that we borrowed
from our children. When I first came to sub-Saharan
Africa as President, I made clear my strong belief
that the future of Africa is up to Africans. (applause) For too long, I think that
many looked to the outside for salvation and focused
on somebody else being at fault for the problems
of the continent. And as my sister said,
ultimately we are each responsible for
our own destiny. And I’m here as President of
a country that sees Kenya as an important partner. (applause) I’m here as a friend
who wants Kenya to succeed. And the pillars of that success
are clear: Strong democratic governance; development that
provides opportunity for all people and not just some; a
sense of national identity that rejects conflict for a future
of peace and reconciliation. And today, we can see that
future for Kenya on the horizon. But tough choices are
going to have to be made in order to arrive
at that destination. In the United States, I always
say that what makes America exceptional is not the
fact that we’re perfect, it’s the fact that we
struggle to improve. We’re self-critical. We work to live up to our
highest values and ideals, knowing that we’re not
always going to achieve them perfectly, but we keep on
trying to perfect our union. And what’s true for America
is also true for Kenya. You can’t be complacent and
accept the world just as it is. You have to imagine what the
world might be and then push and work toward that future. Progress requires that you
honestly confront the dark corners of our own past; extend
rights and opportunities to more of your citizens; see the
differences and diversity of this country as a strength, just
as we in America try to see the diversity of our country as a
strength and not a weakness. So you can choose
the path to progress, but it requires making
some important choices. First and foremost, it means
continuing down the path of a strong, more
inclusive, more accountable and transparent democracy. (applause) Democracy begins with a
peacefully-elected government. It begins with elections. But it doesn’t stop
with elections. (applause) So your constitution offers
a road map to governance that’s more responsive to the
people — through protections against unchecked power,
more power in the hands of local communities. For this system to
succeed, there also has to be space for citizens
to exercise their rights. And we saw the strength of
Kenya’s civil society in the last election, when
groups collected reports of incitement so that violence
could be stopped before it spun out of control. And the ability of citizens to
organize and advocate for change — that’s the oxygen
upon which democracy depends. Democracy is sometimes
messy, and for leaders, sometimes it’s frustrating. Democracy means that somebody
is always complaining about something. (laughter) Nobody is ever happy
in a democracy about their government. If you make one person happy,
somebody else is unhappy. Then sometimes somebody who
you made happy, later on, now they’re not happy. (laughter) They say, what have you
done for me lately? (laughter) But that’s the
nature of democracy. That’s why it works, is
because it’s constantly challenging leaders to up
their game and to do better. And such civic participation
and freedom is also essential for rooting out the
cancer of corruption. Now, I want to be clear. Corruption is not
unique to Kenya. (laughter) I mean, I want everybody
to understand that there’s no country that’s
completely free of corruption. Certainly here in the African
continent there are many countries that deal
with this problem. And I want to assure you I
speak about it wherever I go, not just here in Kenya. So I don’t want everybody
to get too sensitive. (laughter) But the fact is, too
often, here in Kenya — as is true in other
places — corruption is tolerated because that’s how
things have always been done. People just think that
that is sort of the normal state of affairs. And there was a time in
the United States where that was true, too. My hometown of Chicago was
infamous for Al Capone and the Mob and organized crime
corrupting law enforcement. But what happened was
that over time people got fed up, and leaders
stood up and they said, we’re not going to
play that game anymore. (applause) And you changed a culture
and you changed habits. Here in Kenya, it’s
time to change habits, and decisively
break that cycle. Because corruption
holds back every aspect of economic and civil life. It’s an anchor that weighs
you down and prevents you from achieving
what you could. If you need to pay a bribe and
hire somebody’s brother — who’s not very good and
doesn’t come to work — in order to start a
business, well, that’s going to create less
jobs for everybody. If electricity is going to one
neighborhood because they’re well-connected, and not
another neighborhood, that’s going to limit
development of the country as a whole. (applause) If someone in
public office is taking a cut that they don’t
deserve, that’s taking away from those who are
paying their fair share. So this is not just about
changing one law — although it’s important to have
laws on the books that are actually being enforced. It’s important that not only
low-level corruption is punished, but folks at the
top, if they are taking from the people, that has
to be addressed as well. (applause) But it’s not something
that is just fixed by laws, or that any
one person can fix. It requires a commitment
by the entire nation — leaders and citizens
— to change habits and to change culture. (applause) Tough laws need to
be on the books. And the good news is, your
government is taking some important steps in
the right direction. People who break the law
and violate the public trust need to be prosecuted. NGOs have to be allowed to
operate who shine a spotlight on what needs to change. And ordinary people have
to stand up and say, enough is enough. (applause) It’s time
for a better future. And as you take these steps,
I promise that America will continue to be your partner
in supporting investments in strong, democratic
institutions. (applause) Now, we’re also going to
work with you to pursue the second pillar of progress,
and that is development that extends economic
opportunity and dignity for all of Kenya’s people. America partners with Kenya
in areas where you’re making enormous progress, and we focus
on what Kenyans can do for themselves and building
capacity; on entrepreneurship, where Kenya is becoming
an engine for innovation; on access to power, where Kenya
is developing clean energy that can reach more people; on the
important issue of climate change, where Kenya’s
recent goal to reduce its emissions has put it in the
position of being a leader on the continent; on food
security, where Kenyan crops are producing more to
meet the demands of your people and a global market;
and on health, where Kenya has struck huge blows
against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, while building up
the capacity to provide better care in
your communities. America is also partnering
with you on an issue that’s fundamental to Kenya’s future:
We are investing in youth. (applause) We are investing
in the young people of Kenya and the young people
of this continent. Robert F. Kennedy
once said, “It is a revolutionary
world that we live in,” and “it is the young
people who must take the lead.” (applause) It’s the young people
who must take the lead. So through our Young African
Leaders Initiative — (applause) — we are empowering and
connecting young people from across the continent who are
filled with energy and optimism and idealism, and are going to
take Africa to new heights. (applause) And these
young people, they’re not weighted
down by the old ways. They’re creating a new path. And these are the elements for
success in this 21st century. To continue down this
path of progress, it will be vital for Kenya to
recognize that no country can achieve its full potential
unless it draws on the talents of all its people — and that
must include the half of Kenyans — maybe a little more than
half — who are women and girls. (applause) Now, I’m going
to spend a little time on this just for a second. Every country and every
culture has traditions that are unique and help make
that country what it is. But just because something
is a part of your past doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t mean that
it defines your future. Look at us in the
United States. Recently, we’ve been
having a debate about the Confederate flag. Some of you may be
familiar with this. This was a symbol for those
states who fought against the Union to preserve slavery. Now, as a historical
artifact, it’s important. But some have argued that it’s
just a symbol of heritage that should fly in public spaces. The fact is it was a flag that
flew over an army that fought to maintain a system of slavery
and racial subjugation. So we should
understand our history, but we should also recognize
that it sends a bad message to those who were liberated
from slavery and oppression. And in part because of an
unspeakable tragedy that took place recently, where a young
man who was a fan of the Confederate flag and racial
superiority shot helpless people in a church, more and
more Americans of all races are realizing now that that
flag should come down. (applause) Just because
something is a tradition doesn’t make it right. Well, so around the world,
there is a tradition of repressing women and
treating them differently, and not giving them
the same opportunities, and husbands
beating their wives, and children not
being sent to school. Those are traditions. Treating women and girls
as second-class citizens, those are bad traditions. They need to change. (applause) They’re holding you back. Treating women as second-class
citizens is a bad tradition. It holds you back. (applause) There’s no excuse
for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that
young girls should suffer genital
mutilation. There’s no place in
civilized society for the early or forced
marriage of children. These traditions may
date back centuries; they have no place
in the 21st century. (applause) These are issues of
right and wrong — in any culture. But they’re also issues
of success and failure. Any nation that fails to educate
its girls or employ its women and allowing them to
maximize their potential is doomed to fall behind
in a global economy. (applause) You know, we’re in
a sports center. Imagine if you have a team
and you don’t let half of the team play. (laughter) That’s stupid. (laughter and applause) That makes no sense. And the evidence shows that
communities that give their daughters the same
opportunities as their sons, they are more peaceful,
they are more prosperous, they develop faster, they
are more likely to succeed. (applause) That’s true in America. That’s true here in Kenya. It doesn’t matter. And that’s why one of the
most successful development policies you can pursue is
giving girls and education, and removing the obstacles
that stand between them and their dreams. And by the way, if you
educate girls — they grow up to be moms — and they,
because they’re educated, are more likely to produce
educated children. (applause) So Kenya will not
succeed if it treats women and girls as
second-class citizens. I want to be very
clear about that. (applause) Now, this leads me to the
third pillar of progress, and that’s choosing a future
of peace and reconciliation. There are real
threats out there. President Kenyatta and I spent
a lot of time discussing the serious threat from
al-Shabaab that Kenya faces. The United States faces
similar threats of terrorism. We are grateful for the
sacrifices made by Kenyans on the front lines
as part of AMISOM. (applause) We’re proud of the
efforts that we’re making to strengthen Kenya’s
capabilities through our new Security
Governance Initiative. We’re going to stand
shoulder-to-shoulder with you in this fight against
terrorism for as long as it takes. (applause) But, as I mentioned
yesterday, it is important to remember that
violent extremists want us to turn
against one another. That’s what terrorists
typically try to exploit. They know that they
are a small minority; they know that they
can’t win conventionally. So what they try to do is
target societies where they can exploit divisions. That’s what
happens in Iraq. That’s what happens
around the world. That’s what happened
in Northern Ireland. Terrorists who try to sow chaos,
they must be met with force and they must also be met,
though, with a forceful commitment to uphold the
rule of law, and respect for human rights, and to
treat everybody who’s peaceful and law-abiding
fairly and equally. (applause) Extremists who prey on
distrust must be defeated by communities who stand
together and stand for something different. And the most important
example here is, is that the United States
and Kenya both have Muslim minorities, but
those minorities make enormous contributions
to our countries. These are our brothers,
they are our sisters. (applause) And so in both
our countries, we have to reject calls that
allow us to be divided. This is true for
any diverse society. And Kenya is rich with diversity
— with many dozens of tribes and ethnicities, and languages
and religious groups. And time and again, just
as we’ve seen the dangers of religious or ethnic
violence, we’ve seen that Kenya is stronger when Kenyans
stand united — with a sense of national identity. That was the case on
December 12, 1963, when cities and villages across
this country celebrated the birth of a nation. It was true in 2010, when Kenya
replaced the anarchy of ethnic violence with the order
of a new constitution. (applause) So we can all appreciate
our own identities, our bloodlines, our
beliefs, our backgrounds — that tapestry is what
makes us who we are. But the history of Africa
— which is both the cradle of human progress and a crucible
of conflict — shows us that when define ourselves narrowly,
in opposition to somebody just because they’re of a
different tribe, or race, or religion — and we ignore
who is a good person or a bad person, are they working hard
or not, are they honest or not, are they peaceful or violent
— when we start making distinctions solely based on
status and not what people do, then we’re taking the
wrong path and we inevitably suffer in the end. (applause) This is why Martin
Luther King called on people to be judged not by the color
of their skin but the content of their character. (applause) And in the same way, people
should not be judged by their last name, or
their religious faith, but by their content of their
character and how they behave. Are they good citizens? Are they good people? In the United States, we embrace
the motto: E Pluribus Unum. In Latin, that means,
out of many, one. In Kenya, Harambee —
we are in this together. Whatever the challenge, you
will be stronger if you face it not as Christians or
Muslims, Masai, Kikuyu, Luo, any other tribe
— but as Kenyans. And ultimately, that unity is
the source of strength that will empower you to seize
this moment of promise. That’s what will help
you root out corruption. (applause) That’s what will strengthen
democratic institutions. That’s what will help
you combat inequality. That’s what will help you extend
opportunity, and educate youth, and face down threats, and
embrace reconciliation. So I want to say
particularly to the young people here today,
Kenya is on the move. Africa is on the move. You are poised to play a
bigger role in this world — (applause) — as the shadows of the past
are replaced by the light that you offer an increasingly
interconnected world. And in the light
of this new day, we have to learn to see
ourselves in one another. We have to see that
we are connected, our fates are
bound together. Because, in the end, we’re
all part of one tribe — the human tribe. (applause) And no matter who we are,
or where we come from, or what we look like,
or who we love, or what God we worship,
we’re connected. Our fates are bound
up with one another. Kenya holds within it
all that diversity. And with diversity,
sometimes comes difficulty. But I look to Kenya’s
future filled with hope. And I’m hopeful because of
you, the people of Kenya, especially the young people. There are some amazing examples
of what’s going on right now with young people. I’m hopeful because of a young
man named Richard Ruto Todosia. Richard helped build Yes Youth
Can — I like the phrase, Yes Youth Can — (applause) It became one of
the most prominent civil society
organizations in Kenya, with over one
million members. And after the violence
of 2007, 2008, Yes Youth Can stood
up to incitement, helped bring opportunity
to young people in places that were
scarred by conflict. That’s the kind of young
leadership that we need. (applause) I’m hopeful because
of a young woman named Josephine Kulea. (applause) So Josephine founded
Samburu Girls Foundation. And she’s already helped
to rescue over 1,000 girls from abuse
and forced marriage, and helped place
them in schools. (applause) A member of the
Samburu tribe herself, she’s personally planned
rescue missions to help girls as young as 6 years old. And she explains that, “The
longer a girl is in school, everything for her — for
her income, for her family, for this country —
everything changes.” She gives me hope. I’m hopeful because of a young
woman named Jamila Abass. So Jamila founded Mfarm, which
is a mobile platform that is already used by over 14,000
people across Kenya. Mfarm makes it easy for farmers
to get information that lets them match their crops with
what the market demands. And studies show that it can
help farmers double their sales. So here’s what Jamila
said: ” love Kenya because you feel you are home
anywhere you go.” Home anywhere you go —
that’s the Kenya that welcomed me nearly 30
years ago as a young man. You helped make
me feel at home. And standing here today as
President of the United States, when I think about those
young people and all the young people in attendance
here, you still make me feel at home. (applause) And I’m confident that
your future is going to be written across this country and
across this continent by young people like you — young men
and women who don’t have to struggle under a colonial
power; who don’t have to look overseas to
realize your dreams. Yes, you can realize your
dreams right here, right now. (applause) “We have not inherited
this land from our forebears, we have borrowed
it from our children.” So now is the time for us to
do the hard work of living up to that inheritance;
of building a Kenya where the inherent dignity of
every person is respected and protected, and
there’s no limit to what a child can achieve. I am here to tell you that
the United States of America will be a partner for you
every step of the way. (applause) God bless you. Thank you. Asante sana. (applause)

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