On first visit to Kenya as president, Obama highlights entrepreneurship, growth

On first visit to Kenya as president, Obama highlights entrepreneurship, growth

NAIROBI, July 25 - Reuters
On first visit to Kenya as president, Obama highlights entrepreneurship, growth

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, watches as President Barack Obama, center, hugs his half-sister Auma Obama, after he arrived at Kenyatta International Airport, on Friday, July 24, 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

U.S. President Barack Obama told African entrepreneurs in Kenya on July 25 they could help counter violent ideologies and drive growth in Africa, and said governments had to assist by ensuring the rule of law was upheld and by tackling corruption. 

Obama was addressing a Global Entrepreneurship Summit at the start of the first presidential visit to Kenya, his father's homeland and the biggest economy in east Africa, which has been hit by a spate of attacks by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab. 

Security was expected to top the agenda in talks later on July 25 with President Uhuru Kenyatta but Obama is keen to increase business ties with Africa, where China overtook the United States as the continent's biggest trade partner in 2009. 

"Africa is on the move. Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world," Obama told the conference, where he was greeted by applause when he began with the words "Jambo", the  Swahili for "hello". "It is wonderful to be back in Kenya. 

"Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don't see a future for themselves." 

He said government had a vital role on issues such as establishing the rule of law and curbing corruption, citing two issues often cited by businesses as major obstacles. He said more had to be done to help new firms secure capital. 

An array of technology and other companies have started up in recent years in Africa in a bid to shift the continent away from a traditional focus of commodity exports, but entrepreneurs often complain they cannot find affordable capital. 

"Africa is open for business," Kenyatta said in his opening in which he welcomed the U.S. president. "It is the time for a new generation of Africans to promote inclusive prosperity." 
Kenyan, Ethiopian economies surging

Kenya's economy is expected to grow by about 6 percent this year. The economy of Ethiopia, Obama's next stop, is forecast to expand by more than 10 percent, although right groups say Addis Ababa's economic achievements are at the expense of free speech. 

The annual U.S.-sponsored conference was being held for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa at a U.N. compound in Nairobi. 

After attending the conference, Obama laid a wreath to victims of the 1998 bombing by Islamist militants of the U.S. Embassy. The site of the attack in central Nairobi is now a memorial park. The new mission is further from the centre. 

The U.S. president was to hold talks later with Kenyatta before attending a state dinner in the evening. Discussions were expected to focus on security and counter-terrorism cooperation. 

"Proud to be the first American president to visit Kenya. Happy to see family, and to talk with young Kenyans about the future," Obama wrote on his Twitter account after arriving on Friday and meeting relatives for dinner. 

Some Africans complain that Obama, whose father is buried in western Kenya, has not paid enough attention to the continent in his presidency. Obama has sought to change that perception, in part by hosting African leaders in Washington last year. 

One of Obama's initiatives, launched in 2013, was to boost electricity supplies across a continent where many are not on the grid. The goal is to add 30,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity. Deals to add 4,100 MW have been agreed so far, the White House said.