Obama leaves US for Africa trip to Kenya, Ethiopia

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images (36)Excitement built before President Obama’s arrival Friday in the country of his father’s birth for a two-nation African tour.

Kenyan and American flags were hoisted along roads, cleaners scrubbed the asphalt clean, and police relocated homeless families from the routes Obama is likely to take. James Bwire, a Nairobi-based sculptor who designed several billboards to celebrate the president’s visit, said he hopes to get close enough to deliver a small bust he crafted of Obama.

That euphoria is matched by criticism over the president’s decision to make Ethiopia the second stop on his tour.

“I am happy Obama is coming to Kenya,” Bwire said. “He is our son, and I have requested an opportunity to meet him and hand him his sculpture.”

Obama is visiting the two countries to continue his efforts to improve their economies, leadership and access to electricity and health care. He will attend a Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya on Saturday, meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, participate in a human rights roundtable in Ethiopia on Sunday and address the African Union at its headquarters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday. His visits to both countries, as well as his address before the African Union, are all firsts for a sitting U.S. president.

Obama’s father was born in Kenya, where the president has many relatives. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, has made several trips to Kenya  and reunited with some of those long-lost relatives, but his last trip was while he  a U.S. senator, before being elected president in 2008.

In Addis Ababa, Obama is expected to address leaders of the African Union, remarks that may touch on Africa’s democratic deficit.

There are no official visits scheduled for Obama to see his relatives while in Kenya, officials said.

Obama has said he had “never truly known” his father, was born in Kenya’s far west, in a village near the equator and the shores of Lake Victoria.

A pipe-smoking economist, he walked out when Obama was just two and died in a car crash in Nairobi in 1982, aged 46.

Obama has previously made personal visits to Kogelo, the home of many of his Kenyan relatives, most recently in 2006.

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