The moment came on the final day of Ms May’s tour of Africa, with would-be Conservative leader Mr Johnson said to be planning a challenge against her leadership.
But while Ms May might have found the president’s comments about her rival humorous, Mr Kenyatta also highlighted that a British leader had not come to his country for more than 30 years, stating that much had changed since the last one visited.
It was while he was talking about trips by British dignitaries to Kenya that he said: “Last year if you recall the foreign secretary then, Boris... erm... Boris... Boris Johnson... the bicycle guy was here.”
The ex-foreign secretary has a history of gaffes involving Kenya and Africa, having once attacked Barack Obama saying the “part-Kenyan president” had an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” and on another occasion referring to black people as “piccaninnies” and talking about “watermelon smiles”.
Ms May allowed herself a smile after Mr Kenyatta’s comments, and there was some chuckling on the UK side of the press conference. The prime minister herself actually referenced Mr Johnson’s visits to Africa earlier in the trip, as an example of how Britain had remained as engaged in the continent as international rivals.
The visit has shone a light on just how well placed the UK really is to carve out a prominent global role for itself in the face of competition from the likes of the US and China – Ms May highlighted the benefits of “sustainable” private sector investment, possibly a veiled swipe at China’s state financed schemes.
Mr Kenyatta said he did not think Brexit would necessarily change the UK’s relationship with Kenya, saying: “I don’t think Brexit is going to dent our ability to strengthen trade.”
The last time a British prime minister visited the Kenya was Margaret Thatcher’s trip in 1988, something that was mentioned in Mr Kenyatta’s opening speech, underlining that bilateral relations today had a different dynamic.
He said later in the conference: “Yes, it’s been 30 years plus. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but we are looking to the future and we welcome the PM today and I’m sure as we’ve discussed this is the first of hopefully many visits in the future.
“Despite the fact there hasn’t been a British PM, there has always been high level engagement between our two countries and governments – we aren’t only talking about trade, we are talking about trade and support for UN, education, defence.”
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies