In a rare public display, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta strongly disagreed with President Obama’s call for the African nation to prioritize gay rights, saying it is currently a “non-issue.”
Obama arrived in Kenya Friday, his first visit to his ancestral homeland since becoming president. While the visit was mostly intended to focus on trade issues and terrorism, Obama has said he planned to deliver a “blunt message” on the issue of gay rights in Kenya.
That message was delivered — and then swatted down by Kenyatta — during a joint Q&A session in Nairobi held Saturday.
“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,” Obama said.
“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,” he added.
Asked the same question, Kenyatta said Kenya has more pressing issues than gay rights.
While acknowledging that Kenya and the U.S. share many of the same values, Kenyatta said that “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,” Kenyatta said.
“This is why I repeatedly say that, for Kenyans today, the issue of gay rights is really a non-issue,” he added. “We want to focus on other areas that are day-to-day living for our people,” Kenyatta continued, citing the economic inclusivity of women and the improvement of education, infrastructure and entrepreneurship.
“These are the key focuses,” Kenyatta said.
“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.”