Sen. Barack Obama visited one of the world’s worst slums Sunday, where he told residents he wants everyone in America to know about their plight and promised to push the U.S. and Kenyan government to help.
About a third of Nairobi’s total population, at least 700,000 people, are crammed into a single square mile in the slum of Kibera, with little access to running water and other basic services.
“I love all of you, my brothers — all of you, my sisters” Obama told a crowd in Kibera. “I want to make sure everybody in American knows Kibera. That’s why we have all the news crews.”
The Illinois Democrat arrived in Kenya Thursday for his first visit to his father’s homeland since taking office.
On Sunday, he visited a program to start small businesses, and also stopped by an AIDS prevention program in Kibera. The program is affiliated with the University of North Carolina and he met with students who are part of local abstinence campaigns. The group, called Carolina for Kibera, estimates one in five of the slum’s population is HIV positive.
AIDS prevention has been a theme of Obama’s visit. On Saturday, he and his wife, Michelle, underwent public HIV tests at a hospital in Kenyan city of Kisumu in an effort to reduce the public stigma associated with HIV testing.
“Everybody in Kibera needs the same opportunities to go to school, to start businesses, to have enough to eat, to have decent clothes,” Obama said over a megaphone as hundreds of cheering people surrounded him.
The slum stands in sharp contrast to the elegant homes, luxurious hotels and impressive office buildings found elsewhere in the city. Kibera residents are mostly squatters, with no legal claim on the land.
Kenyans have claimed Obama as one of their own, even though he was mostly raised in Hawaii and did not know his Kenyan father well.
Obama’s father, also named Barack, grew up herding goats and going to tin-roof schools, but he won a college scholarship in Hawaii. There, he married Obama’s mother. The two soon separated, however, and Obama’s father eventually returned to Kenya and worked as a government economist.
His father died in a car crash in 1982, leaving three wives, six sons and a daughter.
Earlier Sunday, Obama flew to Wajir, a rural area in northeastern Kenya near the borders with Somalia and Ethiopia. The area is at the epicenter of a severe drought that has hit the Horn of Africa region after erratic and insufficient rains during the April-June season.
Malnutrition levels in parts of the northeastern province are more than double the 15 percent level at which an emergency is declared by U.N. standards.
Obama said he inspected a project to help prevent disease among the herds of cattle, goats and camels raised by the region’s Muslim herders.
He also learned about efforts to resolve conflicts among local clans, which he said is important for preventing the violence and turmoil in neighboring countries.
Obama and his family traveled Saturday to Nyangoma-Kogelo, a tiny village in the rural west where his father grew up. Obama stopped at his father’s grave and also visited his 85-year-old grandmother.