The President talks with Members of Civil Society in Kenya

President Obama: Well hello everybody! Jambo! Well, this
is a very good-looking group. (laughter) So it’s wonderful to
be with all of you. My name is Barack Obama. (laughter) In case you didn’t know. I want to, first of all,
begin by thanking Kenyatta University for
hosting us here today. We are very grateful. And the Vice Chancellor
is here — Madam Vice Chancellor, thank you. (applause) And before we get started, I
want to point out that this is one of our first regional
centers for the Young African Leaders program —
the Young African Leaders Initiative — or YALI
— that we’re doing. As many of you know, this
is one of my labors of love here in Africa, an outgrowth
of some of the work that we had been doing. Seeing the incredible
contributions that young leaders were making in so
many countries, we thought let’s bring them together
and give them opportunities to learn from each other,
and network and access resources, so that they
can, then, in their home countries, be able to
accomplish remarkable things. And so we’re really
excited about that. So we thank the university
for allowing us to use these facilities for these
outstanding people. I just gave a
very long speech. (laughter) Audience Member: We saw it. President Obama: You’re
saying it was also too long? Is that what you’re saying? (laughter) She nodded. She was all like,
yes, it was very long. (laughter) So because you just saw my
speech, it doesn’t make sense for me to give a
whole ‘nother speech. I’m really here more to
listen and to learn. But I do want to just make a
couple of brief remarks at the top. And then what I’m going to
do is I’m going to call on a number of you. I’ve got a few names already
to get us started, and then depending on how much time
we have, then I’ll try to see if I can call on
some additional persons. America has historically
been a country of people who participate in the lives of
their communities and their societies. And it’s one of the things
that make us, I believe, a great nation. There’s a famous French
writer named Alec de Tocqueville, who traveled to
the United States, and wrote a very famous book called
“Democracy in America.” And the point that he made
in this book during the course of his travels was
that what made America a democracy was not just that
it had elections, but that it was a society of joiners
and volunteers, and people who wanted constantly to be
involved in making their communities better. And if there was an
injustice, they wanted to do something about it. And they would form
organizations and they would form town halls, and
disseminate information — so that what the government
did was obviously important, but what was just as
important was what individual citizens were
able to do to create a fabric of mutual concern and
regard and advocacy that would shape government
policy and would shape how societies were organized. And almost all the progress
that America has made in expanding freedom and
opportunity has grown as a result of that bottom-up
civic participation. The civil rights movement,
the women’s rights movement, the movement most recently
to make sure that our gay and lesbian brothers and
sisters have equal rights, the movement to end wars, in
some cases, the movement to provide better resources
for poor children. And there’s the halfway
house movement, and the movement to — the
settlement house movement, rather, and to make sure
that children and orphans were properly cared for. The movement to public
education and public universities. The environmental movement. So many of these things
arose because ordinary citizens started to get
together and speak out and press their demands
on their government. And eventually,
politicians responded. And I got my start in public
life not as an elected official but as a community
organizer in a poor neighborhood in Chicago. And I would work with
churches and community groups to try to improve
the school system, or bring affordable housing. And we weren’t always
completely successful, but it taught me the importance
of the voices of ordinary people when they come
together to create a better vision for the future. And that’s why I think civil
society is so important. And that’s why I emphasized
it in the speech that I made today. And this is something that I
emphasize wherever I go — democracy does not
stop on Election Day. For a real democracy to
work, and for a society to thrive and continually
improve, it requires that people continue
to participate. And there have to be laws in
place to protect that space and facilitate people’s
ability to participate. Now, the good news is, here
in Kenya, you now have a constitution that creates the space for such participation. Alongside freedom of the
press, and freedom of assembly, and the ability to
organize politically, these are precious freedoms that
have to be protected. Because Kenya is a young
democracy there’s always a concern that it might slip
back and that space might narrow, despite what
the constitution says. And I just want to say part
of the reason why it’s important for me to be here
today is to send a message that we in the United States
at least believe that civil society is important and we
want to continue to affirm it, and we want to listen
and hear what it is that ordinary citizens, working
together, have to say about their communities and
about their lives. And if Kenya can continue to
cultivate those habits of participation and
citizenship and freedom, then the country is going
to be better off, and it’s going to continue to make
progress for all people and not just some. So with those opening
remarks, what I want to do now is just open it
up for conversation. And I have in my hand
some names to call on. I may not get
through all of them. I think you’ve been
instructed to try to be relatively brief. (laughter) In some cases, what I’ll do
is I’ll respond right away to the comments. In some cases, I may wait
and respond at the end. But this is designed not so
much as a town hall, to ask me questions, it’s more
designed for you to give me a sense of the things that
are important to you, so that I can learn — and
because I think this is going to be televised — so
that the Kenya people as a whole can hear as well. And the only thing I would
ask is that everybody be respectful. And one of the rules of good
civil society I believe is that you’re respectful of
the people who disagree with you. And that’s part of what
makes civil society work. If you can have civil
disagreements, and you can listen to each other and
not just shout, that’s what creates an environment that
leads to progress over the long term. And the only other thing I’m
going to do is, because it’s warm, I’m going to
take off my jacket. You’re free to
do so as well. This is pretty relaxed. (laughter) Okay, so — and we’ve got a
few topics where we’ve got some civil society
organizations that are already working on
some of these issues. And one of the topics that
hasn’t gotten a lot of attention during my trip but
I consider very important because it’s part of Kenya’s
heritage, but it’s also part of global heritage —
and that is the issue of wildlife trafficking, where
active citizens are really making a difference. And I’m going to call on Tom
Lalampaa of the Northern Rangelands Trust, to tell
us about what he’s doing. Mr. Lalampaa: Thank you
very much, Mr. President. I work for Northern
Rangelands Trust Entity, an umbrella community
organization currently supporting over 30
community-based conservancies. We’ve had a lot of successes
on the trafficking as well. But I just want to mention
two high-level impacts. One is that we’ve been able
to develop a model of a community conservancy that
is unique, that has proven very successful, now widely
accepted by the national government and the
county governments. And all the model has is
that, first and foremost, is that it is
grassroots-rooted. It’s formed by the local
communities — by the elders, the women and the
youth in the villages. And so these institutions
help to anchor good governance, gender matters,
awareness, micro-finance for our youth and our women, s
well, and many, many more programs, including
the — getting water. It’s become an entry point
for the national government and the county governments
to deliver services to the local communities. It’s also structured in such
a way that the political leaders take part in
those institutions. So they are local community
institutions that are registered with
the government. And it’s just amazing,
because they are creating a platform for dialogue — a
platform for communities to decide where they want
water, where they want help, where they want — what
they want to do in matters. The second high-level
impact, Mr. President, is getting conservation to
drive peace and conflict resolution in
northern Kenya. In northern Kenya, peace and
security is quite elusive for many reasons. One is because of
illegal firearms. Secondly, it’s just because
of the nature of the mistrust among our
ethic communities. And thirdly, also because
of the natural resources — pasture, water
for our cattle. And so we’ve managed to get
the conservation to drive peace and conflict
resolution in northern Kenya. I was telling my friend,
Paula, here that when communities, local
communities — they want peace. There’s no way the
elephants live in peace. So that’s what I’m saying,
Mr. President, that all that has been made possible
through the support of the U.S. government, and in
particular, through the USAID Kenya. Mr. President, we have a
number of challenges, but I’ll put them in terms
of a kind request to you. One, we’d
appreciate the U.S. government support to
protect and conserve the remaining African elephants. I’m saying the remaining
because we have lost many. You can help us
in three ways. First and foremost is to
crush demand and market, Mr. President. Not even reducing it. if we can, let’s crush
it once and for all. The Kenya government — the
civil society, ourselves, and the local communities
can only prevent poaching from the source,
from being poached. But the markets and the
demand, Mr. President, are far outside our borders. We are helpless. Please help us. The other way you can help
us protect and conserve the remaining African elephants,
Mr. President, is to get the U.S. government be a member of
the African-led elephants protection initiative. Currently, nine African
states have signed to it. So it would just bring
enormous support and recognition if your
government can join it and also be a part of it. Thirdly, in terms of helping
us conserve and protect our elephants, the remaining,
is to help us deal with the ivory. The second request that I
think would benefit all of us here, Mr. President, my
request also is that if possible — we notice this
is discussed all the time, but our humble
request of the U.S. government is to increase
the international support for the international
programs. And I have in mind,
I talk about the U.S. aid that’s involved,
and any other U.S. government-related
development agencies — because it’s from that pot
that we are going to support conservation, that we can
improve livelihoods, that we can support governance. I always have a feeling that
the USAID office, wherever they are in Africa, and in
the world, they get massive applications, and they can
only deal with so much. Lastly, Mr. President, I
must admit the fact that the embassy’s office — the
USAID offices have been very good with us and
extremely supportive. Thank you so much,
Mr. President. (applause) President Obama: Let me just
say, first of all, Tom, you’re an eloquent spokesman
for your cause and that was an excellent presentation. The second thing I have to
say is that everybody is going to have to be
briefer than Tom. (laughter) Just because I want to make
sure that I get as many comments as possible. The third point is, with
respect to conservation, you said the elephants that
have been lost — 20,000 elephants have been
lost in recent years. And part of the reason why
civil society has to be mobilized around
conservation is that if people have a choice — if
they see a false choice between their own
livelihoods and conserving animals then the
animals will lose. If they’re organized so that
they see that preservation and conservation enhances
their lives, then we win, because they feel ownership
and they will participate. And that’s why the
organizations that you’re putting together
are so important. Now, we’ve got another
person just on this issue before we move to another
issue — Paula Kahumbu, right here. I could tell because she’s
got an arm band that says, “Hands Off Our Elephants.” (laughter) With the Wildlife Trust. Ms. Kahumbu:: Thank
you, Mr. President. First, on behalf of all the
conservation community — and there are several people
in the room — thank you so much for your initiatives
on the African elephant in particular. More than 30,000 elephants — are being
killed every year in Africa. That’s one every 15 minutes. Your grandchildren
elephants. I love elephants. I want the whole world to
fall in love with elephants. And I started this campaign,
“Hands Off Our Elephants,” under the organization,
Wildlife Direct, with the First Lady Margaret
Kenyatta, to empower and mobilize Kenyans, Africans
across the entire continent to save elephants. They are our heritage. They are our identity. And it’s our duty. And it’s not just Africans
who benefit from this. The whole world benefits. It’s not been easy, but our
work has really led to a change in the hearts and
minds of Kenyans, and also the laws. We’ve been at the center of
judicial reforms in this country. Our work has led to the
arrest of one of the most — what do I say –notorious
suspected ivory kingpins, Feisal Mohamed Ali. For the first time in Kenya,
an ivory trafficker is behind bars. And that’s thanks to support
from your embassy, through Ambassador Godec, and
many other organizations. And while we’re succeeding
locally in Kenya, poaching is down, the problem across
Africa is escalating, and the demand for ivory
is actually exploding. We’re dealing with a
wildlife crisis alone. We’re dealing with
international wildlife crime. And that’s why my
organization goes after traffickers. We’re dealing with people
who are funding terrorism, and we’re dealing with a
crime that is fueled by corruption. So we have two requests. The first is that you take
this message back to the American people. We’re often asked,
how can we help. It’s very simple: Tell the
American people, don’t buy ivory. It’s the simplest
way to help. Secondly, we request that
the USA takes a lead in pursuing international
wildlife traffickers with the same vigor and rigor
that you apply to money laundering and drug crimes. And we believe that
this can be done through strengthening your legal
assistance role not just in the demand countries, but
source countries and transit countries. Because we know that the
number of people involved in this crime is actually
relatively small compared to those other crimes. And so we can crush this
very quickly and end the war and save elephants
for all of humanity. Thank you. (applause) President Obama: Thank you. Well, as you may have
noted, yesterday one of our announcements was to be even
stricter with respect to any ivory sales inside
the United States. I mean, we really are
cracking down on that. And with respect to the
international networks, you’re absolutely right that
there’s a connection between corrupt officials getting
paid, criminals being armed, and the ivory trade. You have this linkage that
should be of concern to all of us. And it’s international
in scope. Most recently, the United
States is involved in negotiations with the Asian
countries, the Asia Pacific region — something
called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. One of the things we’re
trying to accomplish in the trade agreement is for many
of these countries with still strong demand for
ivory to start getting much more serious about the
enforcement of their laws, and have it embedded in the
trade agreements that we initiate. So, hopefully, we’ll be able
to influence not just what happens in the United
States, but also in some of the areas where the
demand is heaviest. Another topic where we’ve
seen some progress, and this is something that’s close to
my heart because I’ve got two daughters, and close to
Michelle’s heart — she’s been involved
internationally, trying to highlight the issue of
girls’ education with what we’re calling the Let Girls
Learn initiative that involves many of our
international agencies — is the issue of
girls’ education. Obviously I’ve made it a big
emphasis in my speech here today. So we’ve got a couple of
people to talk about some of the work that’s being done
through civil society on this issue. And I’m going to start with
Kennedy Odede of Shining Hope for Communities. Mr. Odede: Mr. President,
it’s my pleasure and privilege to meet someone
like you who believes in grassroots change. You and I, we share one
background that you did social work in Chicago and
I’m doing it in Kibera where I grew up. I grew us whereby it’s
really hard to make it. There’s no hope, no dream. Many young men end up
being — go to crime. It’s easy for them — if
they’re not able to enjoy even tourism because
they don’t have a dream. There’s no hope in them. Mr. President, I was really
having a hard time in my community, but we said,
enough is enough — and, yes, we can! We came together with a
soccer ball and that became a movement that really
circled around girls’ education. We built the first school in
Kibera called Kibera School for Girls and then started
providing social services to men, too. And that became
world-changing. But my challenge is that how
do you take a grassroots thing like this across
Africa, and by having more partners joining that? Thank you so much. (applause) President Obama: You know,
organizations like yours, if you show that it works and
you’re creating a model of success, then it’s more
likely that it gets adopted in other places. People learn from seeing
something succeed that people might not have
believed before could happen. And if they see that a
school for girls in Kibera, with all the poverty there,
is successful, that means it can succeed anywhere. So we’re very encouraged by
the good work that you’re doing. Now, we also have with
us Linet Momposhi. Linet is right there. Now, Linet is a student and
she’s here from Pangani Girls Form Two. Linet. (applause) Ms. Momposhi: Thank you,
Mr. President, for giving me this chance. Let me speak with you
actually of a friend of mine. At the age of 12, this
friend — she dropped out of school and underwent
genital mutilation. In my community, after
undergoing such this, the (inaudible) said, she
is ready for marriage. She was married to a man
older than her, twice her age. And now at the age of 15,
she has three children. She’s not able to care for
them, for their education. She milks the cows in the
morning and sells the milk so that she can have
something to give to her children. For me, I got an opportunity
to be at a boarding school in Kakenya Center. I had all the chance to
study and I had all the time. I learned to milk the cows
for my mom and prepare my siblings to go
back to school. But now I’m studying in
Pangani Girls, and become the first girl
in the center. And now I would like to be
a cardiologist and study at Harvard University. (applause) President Obama:
That sounds good. Ms. Momposhi: And also I
would like to set an example to the girls in my community
that a girl can really become a cardiologist. Thank you. (applause) President Obama:
That’s wonderful. Linet, hold on. You were so inspiring. Give Linet the mic back. (laughter) Linet, how old
are you right now? Ms. Momposhi:
I’m 16 years old. President Obama:
You’re 16 years old. And how did you come to be
able to go to the boarding school? Ms. Momposhi: I was helped
by Kakenya, the Kakenya Center. And that’s how I go to
study in Kakenya Center. And my dreams started
working in that center where I had a chance to go to
Maryhill but I went to Pangani Girls. President Obama: So there
was a center there, and by you coming into the center,
then you started having bigger dreams about what
you might be able to do? Ms. Momposhi: Okay, I never
used to have big dreams like now. Before joining the center, I
never knew what I was going to do because I never
had any hope in life. President Obama: Yes. So, Linet, I’m sure you’re
going to be an excellent cardiologist. (laughter) So we’re very proud of you. But it just sends a message
in terms of why civil society is so important. So many of our young people
who have a lot of talent, but they just don’t
know what’s possible. And sometimes the most
important thing is just to show them that this is what
could happen in your life if you work hard. And when they have a vision
about what could happen, then suddenly they’re
motivated, the same way that Linet is motivated. And she stars having bigger
ambitions about what’s possible. That’s part of the
reason why civil society organizations that create
mentorship programs and programs for young people
to interact in different professions and talk to
people who have succeeded is so important. And in fact, in the United
States I’ve set up something called My Brother’s
Keeper, designed to target disadvantaged youth so
that they are connected to mentorship programs very
similar to some of the work that resulted in
Linet being inspired. In fact, we have young
people who are mentors at the White House and we
connect them with all of our senior staff. And I have dinner with
them and give them advice. I don’t know if they listen
to the advice, but I think they do. (laughter) Linet, you’re a very
find young woman. Congratulations. We’re very proud of you. (applause) So one of the issues,
obviously, that’s been of concern lately in
Kenya is terrorism. This is an area where I’m
working extensively with the government. This is something that we’re concerned about internationally. And obviously given what
happened in places like Westgate and Garissa, Kenya
is a source of concern as well. But as I said in the press
conference yesterday, one of the important lessons that
we’ve learned is that you can’t just fight terrorism
through military and the police. You also have to change
people’s hearts and minds, and give them a sense that
they’re included in the society and enlist them
in assisting in fighting against terrorism. And so I actually think that
it’s important to include civil society in the
fight against terrorism. That’s what we’re doing
in the United States. That’s what we need to do
here in Kenya as well. And so we’ve got a couple of
organizations that are here that I want to call on just
to talk about the kind of work they’re doing and what
they’re finding on the ground in dealing with
this very important issue. And I’m going to start with
Hassan Ole Nado, who is with SUPKEM. He’s the deputy secretary
general — which is a very important title. (laughter) But, please, go ahead. And describe for us
what SUPKEM does. Is it regionally located? Is it national? Or is it more
along the coast? Tell me about
what it’s doing. Mr. Ole Nado: Thank you,
Mr. President, for this opportunity and also for
having time with civil society in Kenya. The Supreme Council of Kenya
Muslims is an umbrella organization of Muslim
organizations in the country, particularly mosque
and Muslim committees all over the country. And also, we now
have community-based organizations that are
working at the community level, but they found time
to advocate and to be part of the Supreme Council
of Kenya Muslims. We are here, and we have
been doing this work for the last two years because we
are a little bit late in the journey, but we realize that
it’s very important for the community to be engaged. We have worked before by
developing a Countering Violent Extremism
advocacy chapter. That calls for community
leaderships, calls for government engagement, and
also brings other civil society organizations
onboard so that we can be able to deal
with this issue. As you have already said,
terrorism is not about military or the police
or other things. It’s more of
community issues. So it has both security
and social aspect of it. And I really thank you
because of the White House summit, which I was
privileged to attend with Hussein Khalid
of Haki Africa. And after that particular
meeting, when we came back to Kenya we found an
opportunity to engage with government. Because before that White
House summit, the engagement or relationship between
civil society was a little bit lower. But thanks to that
conference, that really opened up the government to
engage with civil society. Through that meeting,
actually, we have been able, as civil society, to
engage government in the development of a national
counter-violent extremism strategy. And I hope the government
will (inaudible) the strategy very soon. We know a number of
organizations who have been involved in this part of
community projects, like Haki Africa and MUHURI
are currently facing some problems. And I hope through your
engagement with the government, you’d be able
to raise concerns of these institutions. I know that the American
government cannot engage organizations that have
relationships with terrorist organizations. And I that is one of the
things that really think it is important to protect
institutions or individuals who engaged in this
particular work. At the moment, we are also
working with the returnees in this country — we have
young men and women who are somehow misadvised and found
themselves in terrorist organizations. They found a way of getting
back to their country, and there are not clear
ways of engagement. I work with the government
of Kenya because they gave amnesty to those who are
willing to be given the amnesty. At the moment, we are really
engaging them, and the government is also opening
up — because at the moment now, they are also creating
what they call interagency coordination centers at the
county level where all arms of government are talking
together before they take actions against
suspected terrorists. The Muslim community, the
leadership are also now onboard and they are really
working on the areas of counter-narrative, because
there are two narratives here. There is the ideological
narrative and there is the old narrative of
marginalization and other aspects. We talk about perceptions
in the narrative of marginalization — they are
real issues that we are calling the government
to address those issues. One of the issues is the
lack of identification documents for young people. I think it is very important
that that should too should be addressed. We have a collapse of the
education system in the northeast because of
terror organizations. And I hope, as struggle to
find ways and answers of how to deal with this problem,
it is important for USAID, which I know they’ve done
quite a lot of work in this country, to consider getting
into education much more by engaging communities so
that communities can run community-based organization
education systems in the northeast so that we are
avoid getting terrorists of tomorrow. Because we have over 400,000
young children who are not going to school because
everybody else is pulled from there, from the region. Maybe if I could speak for
many days, but I really thank you for this
opportunity and also for having time with the civil
society organizations. (applause) President Obama: Thank you. Before you give up the
mic, let me just ask you a question. I’m glad that because of the
White House summit that we had on countering violent
extremism, that there was a more constructive
conversation that was taking place. I think that point that you
make is so important, which is reaching young
people early. What I hear you saying is,
is that one of the problems that exists in certain
parts of the country now is because of fear, in some
cases, and some of the existing structures not
operating as well as they should, that you just have
children who don’t have access to educational
resources and a structure, and then that makes
them more vulnerable to recruitment into an
organization that can give them some sense of purpose
or meaning, even if it ends up being a very
negative one. Is that what’s I’m
understanding? Mr. Ole Nado: Yes, it’s
actually — that is what it is. Because after the
unfortunate terror attacks of Mandera, and later on the
university in Garissa, those who were targeted — because
those are targeting were doing it deliberately to
create interreligious tension in the country. So we have those people, who
are non-Muslims from the region, pulling out of the
region because they feel it’s no longer safe for them
to remain in that region. But by pulling out, the
region has been exposed because it doesn’t haven’t
adequate resources to address this gap
that has emanated. So to me, I think one of the
things that need to consider is we need to build local
organizations that can really break that gap at the
community level, it’s more sustainable because they’re
communities at a lower level. President Obama: Thank you. That’s very useful. Somebody else I want to hear
from is Fauzia Abdi Ali, who’s with Women
International Society. Ms. Abdi Ali: Thank you. I must start by
congratulating you. The speech was really,
really good because it really advocated for issues
of women, which is an area of passion. I’m not speaking as WIS
today, I’m actually speaking as Sisters Without Borders,
because I chair a platform of very inspirational women
who work every single day in the field of peace and
security, in particular countering violent
extremism. So the women come from
different parts of the country — from northern
Kenya, from the coastal region, and even
here in Nairobi. And now I engage mentees all
towards ensuring we have a peaceful society. We empower women from
the household level to understand prevention, to
understand early warning signs of radicalization
of their kids, to look at prevention towards stigma
that is associated with those mothers whose kids
have actually joined violent extremism, or even
their spouses. We also look at empowering
them through support groups where they can have a
space to engage with other like-minded people and even
learn from each other. And we also ensure that this
cross-border engagement between those within
northern Kenya and those within the coastal region so
that they don’t feel alone in this whole concept
of violent extremism. What is normally important
for me is, when it comes to issues of peace and
security, engagement with women is still minimal, and
we’re still playing catchup. When we are pushing for
two-thirds, even within our own parliamentary systems,
we are not looking at what these two-thirds
will be doing. And for us, we are pushing
towards them having some concrete things that they
will talk about within parliament. And in particular is
the issue of education. Because for the women in
northern Kenya, their children are actually not
going to school; they’re not getting quality education. And as Hassan has said, this
ends up becoming a society that has young people who
are not well educated and are more susceptible
to violent extremism. Secondly, it’s the
issue of the economy. In places such as the coast
region, this has affected the economy. And this trickles down to
the household level, and it affects the woman’s old
economy within that structure. So how can we have even
this conversation going on? And we try and link this
to the national level. We also ensure that these
discussions around policy on prevention has
a gender lens. Because the reasons why boys
join and the reason why girls join is
very different. But when we are searching
for solutions in policy, we try and group them together. So sometimes, even when we
are looking at issues of amnesty, we are not really
opening up that space to understand if we are going
to put a rehabilitation center, how do we make it
different from when engaging with a boy and when
engaging with a girl. So that is very
critical for us. One key thing I would love
to put across is you started the first — the
conversation — the White House conference in
February, and it brought a lot more conversation
here through the regional conference we had. And I wanted to
elevate that. In terms of ensuring it’s
more sustainable so that it pushes away from just
discussion is to push for a hub that can be
placed in Africa. The hub we have is actually
in the UAE, the United Arab Emirates — which is useful
for research and ensuring there’s more conversation
around how private sector gets involved, how civil
society and governments can come together. But we don’t have
such hubs in Africa. So in most cases, when you
hear about capacity-building of CVE, we have to go
outside Africa to get this capacity-building. So why not actually start
thinking about either expanding the global center
to have a hub in Kenya, or somewhere in Africa for
easy access for even the grassroots initiatives and
civil society to also be engaged. Thank you. (applause) President Obama: Thank you. That was an excellent
presentation. Thank you. And I will very much
take your remarks under advisement in terms of the
possibilities of setting up a hub. The idea of women being
actively engaged in countering violent extremism
is absolutely critical. Mothers tend to
be more sensible. (laughter) I’m just telling the truth. (laughter and applause) And obviously the younger
we’re reaching children and giving them the sense that
violence is not the right path, and that’s being
reinforced by their primary caregiver, which typically
is the mother, and the idea of peer-to-peer support but
also some peer pressure in terms of making sure that
mothers are involved in steering their children in
the right way — I think that’s a wonderful model. Very exciting. I just learned
something there. So I’ve got a little
bit more time. What I’d like to do now is
I’m just going to call on some people. But I’m not going to be able
to call on everybody, so I just want to say in advance. But I’m going to start with
this young lady right there, in the sweater. And please
introduce yourself. Audience Member: Thank
you, Mr. President. I am the CEO for Kamak
Girls Initiative. Kamak Girls came about
because of a problem — I came from a family that had
45 children; out of it, 35 who are living. Out of the 35, 20 were
girls, 15 were boys. And out of the 20 girls,
only 11 went to school, four of them up to secondary, and
one now up to the PhD level. So my father was
really for education. He really tried his best. But when he passed away in
2004, I realized as a bigger girl, number three, that I
had work to do — follow these girls who dropped out
of school and see that they can live a more meaningful
life towards education, health and economic
development. So I gathered the four girls
who are with me, and we started visiting them and
find out how they are living. Right now, I managed with my
three sisters to take two to the university. One has completed
and has gotten a job. One is in third form. Two to diploma level; one of
them we pushed and we opened at a city school
where she was married. And the other one
went to forest school. And to point, one of them
where she was staying, she reached a class 8 and she
has opened an inner-city school. President Obama: Excellent. Audience Member: Our next
step is to evaluate — when we evaluate, we get girls of
their range so that they can see what these girls have
done, and also help the girls in the
particular area. President Obama: Okay. Audience Member: Yes. And apart from that, I’ve
worked for 34 years, but I’ve not gone very far
because I started building our children from the
(inaudible) and I started working and continue to. I have three children. They have not gone very far
because I’m taking care of these people. So my request is that this
group can move further so that whenever these girls
are married, I can — not only those girls of ours,
but also the girls in that area can also see
that they can do it. Thank you so much. (applause) President Obama: Okay. Well, thank you for
your good efforts. This young lady right there. I ask everybody to try to be
as brief as possible so I can get as many additional
question as possible. Audience Member: Thank you
very much, Mr. President. I am here on behalf of
the Devolution Forum. That’s a civil society
coalition that was set up early last year because we
were very concerned about challenges to the
implementation of devolution in Kenya. And so I’ll speak to just,
very briefly, four points. I have a more
comprehensive memorandum. But one is, we’re very
concerned about the structure development
assistance on devolution. A lot of it is being
channeled through the national government to go to
the county governments, and this is contrary to
the constitution which recognizes the two levels of
government as having shared serenity. Now, this is a ploy by the
government to keep power centralized. It’s really a method of
controlling the governance structure. So we find that even with
the U.S., some of your programs are being channeled
in this way, through the national government, for
the county government. And we find that this
is bad for devolution. We find also the World Bank
very much is channeling — they are funding
in this direction. The other thing that I’d
like to address is — to do with the war on terror. We’ve noted that this an
intergovernmental aspect to the war on terror. And because the security
reforms have not been implemented to the pace that
was supposed to be, we find that these intergovernmental
institutions, such as the county policing authorities,
the community policing, ideologically and even
structurally have not been set up. Ideologically, we find that
they are being taken as more information-gathering rather
than community policing where communities get
actively involved in their community policing. So we are very concerned
that as the U.S. assists the U.S. government, are you going
to look at the ideological foundations of the
structures that will engage citizens and the country
governments in the security process? Because if we don’t do that,
then it will undermine the war on terror and security. I’ll pick one more because I
— President Obama: Because you’re running out of time. Audience Member:
I’m out of time. (laughter) There’s a trend in Africa
where the civic space is being closed. And we’re looking at
countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia. We’re looking
at our country. And we’re wondering, what’s
the response of the U.S. government? We heard your excellent
remarks and sentiments, but of course you are working
with a government that has demonstrated an intent to
close the civic space. So what’s your approach
going to be as you consolidate your work with
the Kenyan government in terms of supporting
civil society? We’re finding even support
for civil society is not as rigorous as it
should have been. Thank you. President Obama: Well, those
are all excellent remarks. Let me just broadly talk
about devolution and then we’ll talk about how we
are interacting with the national government on
civil society issues. With respect to devolution,
Kenya now has a constitution and it has laid out how
devolution is supposed to proceed. That will be subject to
interpretation and legal challenges and
political arguments. That’s probably not an issue
that the United States will be weighing in on deeply. And the reason I say that is
because we have a system of government with a national
— or federal government, and then state governments
and then local governments. And the relationship between
the federal government and the states, the relationship
between federal law and local laws is extremely
complicated and has been the source of constant
democratic debate, argument, challenges, court cases. And that’s been going
on for 250 years now. I mean, that was part of
the original issue in the formation of the United
States of America — how much power remained with the
states and how much power went to the federal
government. So the challenge that
we would have as an international — or as an
outside party as the United States of America is that
how that plays itself out within Kenya is ultimately
up to the Kenyan people. Because there are arguments
actually on both sides when it comes to national
versus state power. In the United States, for
example, those who wanted to maintain racial segregation
consistently used the argument that states have
the right to do what they want, and the federal
government doesn’t have the authority to enforce civil
rights laws that are discriminating against
minorities at the state level. And I actually think, in
that situation, the national government needed to say to
states that had segregation laws — you have to stop. And national law and the
rights of individuals that are in the bill of rights
are superior to whatever challenges — or whatever
claims are being made for states’ rights. Now, on the other hand,
there are times where the national government is
involving itself in states unnecessarily, and imposing
views that may not be properly adapted to
the local region. So I guess what I’m saying
is, is that that’s an issue that’s — it would be
very difficult for us as outsiders to try
to figure out. What we can do is to say,
consistent with democracy, you have a constitution; you
should abide by what’s in your constitution. And you can make your own
decisions about the systems that you want to arrange and
the balance between federal and state power, or
local power or counties. And as long as it’s
proceeding in a legal process consistent with the
constitution, we’re okay with that. So I just wanted to be
honest, that’s not probably an issue where I’m going to
be asking the ambassador of the United States to get
deeply involved in because it’s just too complicated. Every country is going to
be different in terms of finding that balance. Now, the issue of civil
society is different, because we do believe that
if you have laws that restrict people’s ability
to organize and speak out peacefully, and participate
in their government and petition their government
— if those become too restrictive, then that, in
any society, contradicts the basic premise of democracy. And I recognize that there
have been some concerns about some of the laws that
have either been proposed or are being interpreted in
ways that appear to restrict the legality of certain
activities by certain groups. Rather than to say
specifically what we’re for and against — because
frankly, I don’t know all the details — what I will
say is this: We will look suspiciously on laws that
say certain peaceful groups can’t operate just because
they might be critical of the government, for example. I mean, our bias as a
country and in our foreign policy is to say that
if a group is peacefully organizing and advocating
for issues, that they should be able to do so without excessive government interference. Now, if the groups are
violent, then that’s a different issue. But you heard me in my press
conference yesterday — I don’t counterterrorism to be
used as an excuse then to crush legitimate dissent. And we will guard
against that as well. So we have every intention
to work on a whole range of common interests with
the Kenyan government. There are areas where we
have a complete agreement, and we will work through the
Kenyan government in order to accomplish
those common goals. We want to be helpful and
supportive of the national agenda, but we’ll also be
working with NGOs and local organizations at
the local level. Many of the organizations that area we have been supporting. And what we’ll do is we’ll
make sure that in all of our interactions and engagements
with the government, when we see an organization, for
example, that we have determined is, in fact,
legitimate and is peaceful, that it is in some ways
being suppressed, we will speak up and we’ll be
very clear about it. So we’re going to be
engaged, we’re going to be involved. But as I was telling —
I met with some of the opposition leaders very
briefly — those who are not in government —
after the speech. And I told them, you have a
legally elected government and we’re going to work with
that government, but we’re also always going to be
listening to all elements of Kenyan society. It was funny, though — one
of the opposition leaders — I won’t mention who — was
saying, you know, we really need you to press the Kenyan
government on some issues. And I had to say to him, I
said, I remember when you were in government – (laughter) — you kept on saying, why
are you trying to interfere with Kenya’s business;
you should mind your own business. (laughter) So everybody wants the
United States to be very involved when
they’re not in power. And when they’re in power,
they want the United States to mind their own business. I think the way that we are
going to operate is just to continue to be honest and
to promote the kinds of policies and interests
that we believe in. But ultimately — and this
is probably a good way to close — ultimately I just
want to remind everybody that Kenya’s prosperity, its
freedom, its opportunity, the strength of its
democracy is going to depend on Kenyans. It’s not going to
depend on somebody else. There was a time,
post-Colonial, Cold War, when the big major powers
were constantly interfering and determining what
was happening in other countries. And frankly, the United
States sometimes was involved in trying to decide
who should be in charge of countries. But that honestly
has changed. Our policy is to respect the
sovereignty of nations and to recognize that it’s
ultimately up to the people of those countries to
determine who leads them and their form of government. But we are not going to
apologize for believing in certain values and ideals. And I may interact with
a government, out of necessity, where we
have common interests. But if there are areas where
I disagree, I will also be very blunt in my
disagreement. And that’s true whether it’s
Russia or China, or some of our European friends, or a
great friend like Kenya. The good news is that, over
all, the United States and Kenya have so much in
common, so much shared history, such strong
people-to-people ties, that the disagreements we have,
regardless of who’s in power, tend to be far fewer
than all the areas where we have work to do together. But I’m very encouraged to
see that we’ve got such a strong civil society that’s
going to help move Kenya forward, and also help
create a stronger relationship between the
United States and Kenya for years to come. So thank you for being here. This was a great
conversation. (applause)

Michael Martin

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