More than 500 US residents with a blood connection to Kenya gathered in Washington on Saturday in the first conference focused on the diaspora’s relationship with the homeland.
One particularly prominent figure was absent however: President Barack Obama.
Kenya’s US Ambassador Elkanah Odembo said organisers had invited Mr Obama, whose father was Kenyan, to attend the event.
The White House replied that the president’s schedule did not allow for such an appearance.
Ambassador Odembo added that “there had been talk Mrs Obama might join us.” But the First Lady also did not attend.
Although Mr Obama has made scant mention of Kenya since taking office, he does pay close attention to what is happening in the country, Ambassador Odembo said.
“He gets updated on a regular basis,” the ambassador said, noting that aides brief Mr Obama on major stories in the Daily Nation and Standard.
“We have a very good relationship with people in the White House,” Kenya’s envoy continued.
The embassy gets calls from high-ranking officials at least once a week, Mr Odembo said.
Two recent contacts followed the pipeline explosion in a Nairobi slum and the death of Wangari Maathai, the ambassador recounted.
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Richard Onyonka, who was substituting as conference keynote speaker for Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, added at a press conference that he hoped President Obama would visit Kenya during the remaining 15 months of his first term.
Mr Onyonka added, however, that he knew of no plans for such a visit.
He had earlier told the gathering at a Washington hotel that Chief Justice Mutunga had been unable to make his scheduled appearance due to “extremely unavoidable circumstances.”
Also taking part in the conference were Dr Ali Mazrui, a world-renowned Kenya scholar who teaches in New York, and Calestous Juma, a professor at Harvard University.