US President Barack Obama criticises Kenya inequality that treats women as 'second-class citizens' during first official visit

He also criticised the banned practice of female genital mutilation, which is prevalent in the country

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The Independent Online

On his first visit to Kenya as US President, Barack Obama has warned the nation that it would "not succeed if it treats women and girls as second-class citizens."

Speaking to a crowd of around 4,500 people at the Moi International Sports centre in the capital city of Nairobi, he urged Kenyans to do more to promote gender equality.

Many girls in Kenya suffer from a lack of education when compared to boys, and women feel the impact of a large wage gap and sexual violence. Girls from some ethnic groups also suffer from female genital mutilation (FGM), which is practiced in some communities like the Maasai tribe, despite being made illegal in 2011.

Speaking about the practice, which involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia, the President said: "These traditions may date back centuries. They have no place in the 21st Century."

 

He also used the speech to criticise long-running tribal and ethnic divisions in Kenya, which he said are "doomed to tear our country apart."

Minor conflicts between Kenyan tribal groups and other ethnic groups, such as Indians and Somalis, are fairly common in Kenya, although more serious incidents are not unheard of.

In 1992, around 5,000 people were killed in the Rift Valley Province in the west of the country, during clashes over land ownership between the Kalenjin and Kikuyu ethnic groups.

Despite his calls for reform, Obama made his deep affection for his father's homeland clear in the speech.

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Kenyan Maasai women discuss FGM at a meeting in Enkorika, around 50 miles from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi

He said: "When it comes to the people of Kenya, particularly the youth, I believe there is no limit to what you can achieve."

"Because of Kenya's progress, because of your potential, you can build your future right here, right now."

Obama has visited Kenya in the past, before he was President. He told the crowd the story of his first visit to Kenya in 1987, where he was picked up at the airport by his sister in a clapped-out Volkswagen Beetle that often broke down.

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Kenyan t-shirt sellers are capitalising on Obama's visit with a range of commemorative shirts

Joking to the crowd, he noted the contrast with his most recent arrival, flying in on Air Force One and travelling in an armoured motorcade.

On Sunday, Obama moves on to the bordering country of Ethiopia, a nation which has some of the fastest economic growth rates in Africa despite being devastated by famine in the 1980s.

However there are concerns that Ethiopia's success has come at the expense of democracy and political freedom.

Given Obama's criticisms of inequality, divisions and corruption while in Kenya, it's possible that he will raise this issue during his time in Ethiopia.