NAIROBI, Kenya — Hundreds of U.S. Embassy employees and their families cheered and sang to greet Sen. Barack Obama after he met Friday with President Mwai Kibaki during Obama’s first trip to his father’s homeland since taking office.
Obama also met survivors of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy and laid a wreath in memory of the 248 people killed, officials said.
“We will not forget what has happened here,” Obama said.
Hundreds surrounded the park in central Nairobi, cheering and waving. A bystander was allowed through a security cordon to present Obama with a wood carving.
“Lots of politicians visit, but this is special and meaningful because of Obama’s Kenyan background,” said survivor George Mimba, a Kenyan who still works at the embassy as a computer manager.
The Illinois Democrat and his family are headed Saturday to the western village of Nyangoma-Kogelo, where Obama’s father grew up and where his grandmother still lives.
On the streets of the capital, Nairobi, reactions to Obama’s arrival Thursday were mixed.
“I consider him a hero, [a] bright and real politician who has made it to the U.S. Senate despite the hurdles facing African aspirants there,” said Jonathan Mutisya, 36, a legal clerk. “But, however, I don’t think his tour will bring much benefit to Kenya’s common man. Perhaps his relatives will benefit from him.”
Peter Githaiga, a 42-year-old tour guide, said he also didn’t think Obama’s visit was “of any benefit to Kenya.”
“But I am proud of having a senator of Kenyan origin in the U.S. Senate,” he said.
Obama grew up in Hawaii with his American mother after his parents divorced. He has visited Kenya three times, most recently in the early 1990s to introduce his then-fiancee to his Kenyan family. This is his first trip to Kenya since becoming a senator.
His father, also named Barack Obama, became a university lecturer in Uganda after studying economics at Harvard University. He then worked in Kenya’s private sector before joining the treasury department, where he became a senior economist.
He died in a car crash in 1982, leaving three wives, six sons and a daughter. One son died in 1984 and all his surviving children, except one, live in Britain or the United States.
During the meeting Friday with Obama, Kenya’s president recalled how he worked with Obama’s late father, according to a statement released by the presidential press service. Obama praised the “democratic achievement Kenya has attained” which should “attract foreign investors for the country and the region at large,” the statement quoted him as saying.
Later, Obama met privately with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta.
Tour promotes AIDS awareness
In Nyangoma-Kogelo, a tiny village tucked away in the rural west where chickens roam free and tiny boys in rags tend their flocks, residents have been preparing for weeks for Obama’s return. Local newspapers reported that the dirt road leading to his 85-year-old grandmother’s house was leveled.
Obama plans to take a public HIV test at a clinic there in an effort to promote the need for safe sex in a country where about 700 people die each day from HIV/AIDS.
Although there have been recent declines in the numbers infected with the virus in Kenya, 2 million people of a total population of 33 million are infected. Around 1.5 million have died from the disease — and western parts of the country are the worst hit.
After his visit to Kenya, Obama is headed to Djibouti and Chad. He began his African tour Sunday in South Africa. Aides said earlier this week that Obama had scrapped plans to visit Congo and Rwanda at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Congo because of postelection fighting in that country’s capital, Kinshasa.
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