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Obama makes pro-gay remarks in Kenya
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President Obama's historic visit with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta went relatively smoothly, save for one issue: gay rights.

At a joint press conference July 25, Obama called on African nations to bestow equal rights upon gays and lesbians; however, Kenyatta dismissed the importance of gay rights, calling it a "non-issue."

"The idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong," Obama said. "That's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen. When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread."

Read more story below....

LGBT organizations praised Obama. "President Obama continues to show tremendous leadership on this issue and we commend him for speaking out on the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or whom they love, or what country they live in," said Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global.

FROM THE WHITE HOUSE, Office of the Press Secretary,July 25, 2015

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND PRESIDENT KENYATTA OF KENYA

IN PRESS CONFERENCE

Kenyan State House

Nairobi, Kenya

4:46 P.M. EAT

PRESIDENT KENYATTA: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin by saying that we have had an excellent afternoon where we've had very frank and, indeed, very fruitful discussions with President Obama on a variety of issues of mutual interest both to Kenya and the United States. This follows the signing of agreements covering areas of mutual interest such as security, visa reciprocity, and the development and cooperation amongst other things.

Our discussions affirmed that Kenya and the United States share deep values in many areas of critical interest. And naturally, therefore, our peoples and governments speak the same language on many issues. Kenya is an open, democratic society, underpinned by an embrace of democracy. We are deepening that democracy while fighting global terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life. Left undefeated, they will redraw the international system and make room for violent extremism and tyranny.

We agreed together that we can build a future in which our people of all faiths, cultures live peacefully together, with the rights of individuals and minorities protected, and those in power held to account by strong and inclusive institutions. I also expressed to President Obama that without building shared prosperity, our vision of a secure Africa and, indeed, a stable world will remain a fragile dream.

It is for this reason that Kenya, an increasingly dynamic country, is continuously opening new trade and investment frontiers across the world. I conveyed the hope that during his tenure in office, the United States would look to develop a strong strategic partnership with Africa built on shared values and interests. I expressed the hope that his visit would allow him and the people of the United States to gain an even deeper insight on Africa's challenges. And this will enable them to see these challenges as an expression of great opportunities that are available here.

The United States is a country of entrepreneurs with the unique capacity to build transformative businesses, and I hope that these entrepreneurs and investors will recognize and act on the immense opportunities Kenya and Africa present. And in this regard, I also expressed my appreciation of his leadership in shepherding the renewal of AGOA.

Beyond shared values, we are brothers and sisters, fellow travelers in the struggle for a better world for all. And we therefore need to upscale our partnerships in agriculture, infrastructure and affordable energy. I also expressed my own commitment to ensuring that on our part we will continue to take the steps that provide the proper conditions for a vibrant ecosystem for investors and entrepreneurs.

We agreed to continue to engage one another so that we can strengthen what is already a robust relationship. And indeed, I look forward to hosting President Obama later this evening and, indeed, also seeing him at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

President Obama, once again, on my own behalf, on behalf of my government and the people of Kenya, let me thank you for your support as evidenced by the various agreements signed between our two governments and, indeed, your willingness to engage Kenya in the true spirit of partnership.

It's now my pleasure to introduce the President to make some brief remarks as well. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Habari. President Kenyatta, let me just reiterate what I said at the summit earlier: To you and the people of Kenya, thank you for the extraordinary welcome that you've given me, and for the same kindness that you've shown to me since my first visit to Kenya nearly 30 years ago. I'm proud to return as the first U.S. President to ever visit Kenya while still in office. I need to give a special acknowledgement to everybody in Alego and Kogelo and Kisumu. (Applause.)

I'm well aware, however, that the enthusiasm that we're seeing today from my visit is a reflection of something bigger — and that's the desire among the Kenyan people for a deeper partnership with America. And that's why I'm here. My work with President Kenyatta today has been rooted in our shared recognition that the interests of both our nations, and the lives of both our peoples, can be advanced if our countries deepen and expand our cooperation. And that's what we've agreed to today.

First, I want to salute the Kenyan people for their hard-won progress in strengthening their democracy. Millions voted for the new constitution, one of the most progressive in Africa, with its strong protections for freedom of expression, assembly and the press, and its emphasis on equality and against discrimination. The election two years ago was competitive and largely peaceful. Kenya has a determined, active, feisty press — as we see here today. And as I've said elsewhere, a free press helps make a nation stronger and more successful, and it makes us leaders more effective because it demands greater accountability. Kenya has a vibrant civil society, which is essential for any democracy, and I look forward to meeting tomorrow with representatives from civil society who stand up for the dignity and rights of all Kenyans.

Dignity begins, of course, with the ability to provide a decent life for our families. And today, President Kenyatta and I agreed to expand the economic partnerships between our peoples that can provide broad-based prosperity. We will extend student and business visas for up to five years for Kenyans traveling to the United States and for Americans traveling to Kenya. This will make it easier for university students to complete their studies and for businesses to make long-term plans. Our governments are also working to launch direct flights between Kenya and the United States as soon as possible. As part of our Young African Leaders Initiative, we'll also continue to support promising Kenyan youth as they work to become future leaders in business, civil society and government.

Now that we've renewed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, for another 10 years, I discussed with President Kenyatta how we can expand our economic cooperation. And we're especially focused on infrastructure and energy — two keys to economic growth. Our Power Africa initiative is supporting Kenya's goal of achieving its national energy needs — electricity for Kenyans — by 2030. And this includes innovations that bring power to rural Kenyans who are off the grid, as I saw earlier today at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. I also want to commend Kenya, a leader in clean energy, for announcing its post-2020 target to limit carbon emissions as part of our fight against climate change.

Together, we are confronting insidious threats to Kenya's prosperity. President Kenyatta, I want to commend you on your announced commitment to rooting out corruption. With the joint commitment we've agreed to today, the United States will offer advice and technical assistance to support Kenya as it takes additional steps to increase transparency and accountability, and to strengthen institutions that fight corruption. So we're making important commitments, and now we need to work together to fulfill them. Because if Kenya can put in place the habits and institutions of good governance, it can help unleash even greater growth and investment and prosperity for the Kenyan people. And that will be good for everybody.

Our countries are also close partners in the fight against poachers and traffickers that threaten Kenya's world-famous wildlife. The United States has a ban already on the commercial import of elephant ivory. I can announce that we're proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across our state lines, which will eliminate the market for illegal ivory in the United States.

On security, the United States and Kenya are already strong partners, and today we reaffirm that we stand united in the face of terrorism. Earlier, I had the opportunity to meet with survivors and families of victims of the bombing of our U.S. embassy in 1998. In the face of despicable violence, such as the attack on Garissa University College and the Westgate Mall, the Kenyan people have shown incredible resolve and remarkable resilience. I also want to pay tribute to the sacrifices of Kenyan forces who serve in the African Union-led mission against al-Shabaab in Somalia, and to thank Kenya for hosting so many Somali refugees, who are also victims of al-Shabaab.

Today, we discussed deepening our security cooperation. As part of our Security Governance Initiative, our governments signed an action plan yesterday in which we'll support Kenya's effort to strengthen its judiciary, police and border security. We also discussed broader efforts to counter violent extremism, here in Kenya and around the world — efforts that are advanced when there is rule of law, respect for human rights, a space for civil society and peaceful dissent, and when we welcome all communities as our partners. All our nations are going to have to work together in order for us to be successful.

We also had the opportunity to discuss regional security issues, and we focused in particular on the terrible conflict in South Sudan, which has taken so many lives, that cause unbearable suffering for the South Sudanese people. The situation is dire. And we agree that the best way to stop the fighting is for South Sudanese leaders to put their country first with a peace agreement that ends the fighting.

We also discussed Burundi, where the recent elections were not credible. And we're calling on the government and the opposition to come together in a dialogue that leads to a political solution to the crisis and avoids the loss of more innocent life.

And finally, we're going to keep investing in the health and well-being of our people. Our Feed the Future initiative is focused on reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty. We're working together to ensure that girls have access to education and that women are protected from violence. Today, I can announce that Kenya will be part of our DREAMS initiative to help keep adolescent girls safe and AIDS-free. And across Africa, Kenya and the United States will keep working to strengthen public health systems and deal with outbreaks and diseases before they become epidemics. Together, we can save lives.

So, President Kenyatta, thank you for the progress and new commitments that we made today. I know that Kenya faces persistent challenges, as does the United States. But I will tell you that every time I come here, I'm struck by the dynamism and the hopefulness, the determination and the talent of the Kenyan people. And I look forward to the opportunity to speak to the people of Kenya tomorrow about the future that we can build together.

Asante sana. (Applause.)

Do you want me to start? Okay.

Mr. Jeff Mason.

Q Thank you very much. Mr. President, I'd like to ask about two topics. First of all, what more specifically can the U.S. do to help Kenya in the fight against al-Shabaab? Do you still see Somalia as a counterterrorism model? And are you concerned about Kenyan authorities using counterterrorism as an excuse to commit human rights violations?

Secondly, can you comment on the state of gay and lesbian — the treatment of gay and lesbians in Kenya, which rights groups have called dismal, and President Kenyatta has called a non-issue?

For you, sir, President Kenyatta, on the same themes — what more do you need from the United States to help fight al-Shabaab, and are you getting it? And can you please also respond to criticism about the state of gay rights in your country?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this was an extensive topic of conversation and concrete action that we're now taking. There has been extensive and effective counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and Kenya dealing with primarily threats from al-Shabaab.

In part because of the actions that we've taken not just with Kenya, but with AFRICOM, and the efforts, collectively, of countries to work together — Uganda, Ethiopia, others — we have systematically reduced the territory that al-Shabaab controls. We have been able to decrease their effective control within Somalia, and have weakened those networks operating here in East Africa.

That doesn't mean the problem is solved. As is true around the world, what we find is, is that we can degrade significantly the capacities of these terrorist organizations, but they can still do damage. The number of individuals involved in Garissa or Westgate Mall were not large, but when they're willing to target soft targets and civilians, and are prepared to die, they can still do a lot of damage.

And so what we discussed was the importance of, number one, continuing the effort to root out al-Shabaab's capacity inside of Somalia, working jointly. And as we speak, Kenya is working with Ethiopia and with the United States and others to further degrade al-Shabaab's space of operations inside of Somalia. So we have to keep that pressure going, even as we're strengthening the Somalian government. Because part of the reason that al-Shabaab was able to emerge as a significant threat to the region was a non-functioning government, effectively a failed state in Somalia for so long.

There is now a government and a cabinet that is credible and is working with the international community in Mogadishu. And even as we put military pressure on al-Shabaab, we also have to make sure that we're standing up an effective governance structure inside of Somalia. And we've made progress there.

In addition, we have to continue to make progress in intelligence-sharing and being able to identify and prevent threats before they occur here in Kenya and elsewhere in the region. And part of our announcement today involves additional funding, additional assistance that we're providing the Kenyan security forces to deal with these very specific counterterrorism threats, as well as additional training and assistance to make sure that the approach that's taken in rooting out potential terrorist threats don't create more problems than they're solving.

And this goes to the other element of the question that you asked. What we have found, sometimes through hard experience — and I shared this with President Kenyatta — is that if you paint any particular community with too broad a brush, if in reaction to terrorism you are restricting legitimate organizations, reducing the scope of peaceful organization, then that can have the inadvertent effect of actually increasing the pool of recruits for terrorism and resentment in communities that feel marginalized.

And I shared with him that one of the strengths in the United States, part of the reason why, although we're seeing potential lone wolf attacks inside the United States, that we have not seen this sort of systematic networks and cells developing in many of our Muslim communities or immigrant communities inside of the United States is, is that we've been very conscious to make sure that law enforcement is reaching out and cooperating and working with them, because they are our partners in this process. And the only way we're going to fight the poison that's being fed to their young people through social media is to make sure that they're our eyes and our ears, and they're counseling us on how we can more effectively build trust and increase cooperation. And that's proven successful.

The same will be true here in Kenya. I was very clear to President Kenyatta — ultimately, the Kenyan government is accountable to the Kenyan people, and it will find its way through this process in cooperation with us, but our experience and best practices tell us that rule of law, respecting civil society — in fact, embracing civil society, particularly in those communities that may be targeted for recruitment by organizations like al-Shabaab — that becomes more important the more significant the threat is. And not only is that practical advice, but it's the right thing to do, and it's consistent with the Kenyan constitution and with the values that you heard President Kenyatta espouse.

Similarly, with respect to the rights of gays and lesbians, I've been consistent all across Africa on this. I believe in the principle of treating people equally under the law, and that they are deserving of equal protection under the law and that the state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. And I say that, recognizing that there may be people who have different religious or cultural beliefs. But the issue is how does the state operate relative to people.

If you look at the history of countries around the world, when you start treating people differently — not because of any harm they're doing anybody, but because they're different — that's the path whereby freedoms begin to erode and bad things happen. And when a government gets in the habit of treating people differently, those habits can spread.

And as an African-American in the United States, I am painfully aware of the history of what happens when people are treated differently, under the law, and there were all sorts of rationalizations that were provided by the power structure for decades in the United States for segregation and Jim Crow and slavery, and they were wrong.

So I'm unequivocal on this. If somebody is a law-abiding citizen who is going about their business, and working in a job, an obeying the traffic signs — (laughter) — and doing all the other things that good citizens are supposed to do, and not harming anybody — the idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.

And the state does not need to weigh in on religious doctrine. The state just has to say we're going to treat everybody equally under the law. And then everybody else can have their own opinions. All right?

Q President Kenyatta, could you address the questions as well, please?

PRESIDENT KENYATTA: Yes, we'll address them. (Laughter.) First and foremost, I couldn't agree more on what President Obama has just said, especially with regard to the issue of the fight against terrorism. The support and the partnership that we have with the United States from an intelligence point of view, from a counterterrorism point of view, but more importantly, as he's also just mentioned, working with societies on how to prevent especially extremists from finding better fodder for them to be able to develop and to grow and to nurture the terrorists of tomorrow.

You also heard him say — and, indeed, we're truly grateful — his expansion under the agreements that we've signed of the cooperation and the assistance that we're getting from the United States.

So as a country, as a government, we are satisfied with what we're doing. We need to expand that more. Because the battle that we're fighting is not a Kenyan war. Kenya just happens to be the frontier of it, being a neighbor to a country that for a long time has not had any kind of formal government. We need to work much closer together to see how we can stabilize Somalia. We need to work much closer together to see how we can help the Somali government, which is in place, work together with its regional governments in order to continuously decrease the area and the space that al-Shabaab and the like have to operate and to train and to expert terror not just to Kenya, but also to other parts of the world.

So I'm looking forward to deepening the partnership that we already have. But we are satisfied with the kind of cooperation that we've had and the close working relationship between our various institutions.

You raised the issue of human rights, and I mentioned earlier that the kind of fight we're having right now, this is an existential fight for us; this is something that we have not been familiar with. Kenya has always been a country that has respected different religions. This issue of terrorism is new to us. And as it is new, we learn with each and every step. We are improving our capacities and our methods of dealing with terrorism. We, as a country, are willing to learn. We have undertaken fundamental reforms in our police services to help us to deal with this particular problem. We are continuing to partner with friends, like the United States, who are giving their own experiences as to how they have handled this particular problem, and we are keen to learn and to participate.

And I am certain that as we move forward, as we get better, as we learn from others, we will be able to handle the situation in a manner that does not, as President Obama said, encourage this kind of activity going forward on the basis of either marginalization or people feeling that particular communities are being targeted.

As a country, we have done a lot, especially under our new constitution, our new devolved system of government that is aimed at providing and ensuring equity and development across the country. We have put a lot of resources into some of the previously neglected areas. In fact, today, as we sit, a huge portion — approximately 40 percent of our national budget is being invested in those areas in an attempt to ensure that all communities in our country feel that the government is for them all and that they are part and parcel of the social-economic development of our country.

So we will continue to improve. We will continue to learn. We will continue to participate with all communities, with civil society, to strengthen our partnership in order to ultimately be able to defeat this enemy.

With regard to the second question, just like President Obama, I think we also need to be able to speak frankly about some of these things. And the fact of the matter is that Kenya and the United States, we share so many values — our common love for democracy, entrepreneurship, value for families. These are things that we share. But there are some things that we must admit we don't share — our culture, our societies don't accept. It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept.

This is why I repeatedly say that, for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue. We want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for our people: The health issues that we have discussed with President Obama. These are critical. Issues of ensuring inclusivity of women, a huge section of society that is normally left out of the mainstream of economic development. What we can do in terms of infrastructure; what we can do in terms of education; in terms of our roads; in terms of giving our people power, encouraging entrepreneurship. These are the key focuses.

Maybe once, like you have overcome some of these challenges, we can begin to look at new ones. But as of now, the fact remains that this issue is not really an issue that is on the foremost mind of Kenyans, and that is the fact.

Q Thank you very much. I have two questions for President Obama and a question for President Uhuru Kenyatta. My first question to President Obama is: There has been a perception that Kenya and the U.S. had a strained relationship right from the time that we had a new government. And in fact, we had several Western countries saying that, indeed, choices had consequences. Is you coming to Kenya sort of pressing a reset button to tell us that, indeed, you are ready to renew your relationship with this country that you've had a long-running relationship with for quite some years?

And my second question is about the funding. Indeed, you have told us about several agreements that have been signed. Does it concern your government that, indeed, there is corruption that has — it's an issue that has been taken head on by our very President? And in fact, some of his cabinet secretaries and peers and top government officials are currently in court because of that. Does it concern your government that, indeed, you're spending money in a country that the President himself is concerned about the level of corruption?

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