In a joint press conference after talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Obama also pushed a tough message on Kenyan corruption, the civil war in South Sudan, controversial elections in Burundi and the fight against Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab militants.
“I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this. When you start treating people differently, because they’re different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode. And bad things happen,” he said in a moment of open disagreement with the Kenyan leader.
“When a government gets in the habit of treating people differently those habits can spread. As an African-American in the United States I am painfully aware of what happens when people are treated differently under the law. I am unequivocal on this.”
He said that for “a law-abiding citizen who is going about their business, and working at a job and obeying the traffic signs and not harming anybody, the idea they will be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong, full stop.”
Homophobia is on the rise in Africa, and for his part Kenyatta only repeated that for him, gay rights was “a non-issue.”
“There are some things that we must admit we don’t share. It’s very difficult for us to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. This is why I say for Kenyans today the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue,” Kenyatta said.
Obama arrived in Kenya late on Friday, making his first visit to the country of his father’s birth since he was elected president.