Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta prepares to address the country's parliament. Nairobi, Kenya, March 26, 2015. (Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta prepares to address the country's parliament. Nairobi, Kenya, March 26, 2015. (Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

United States President Barack Obama’s July visit to his father’s ancestral home elicited a lot of hope for a country working to maintain its reputation as an island of peace in a region of turmoil. As Obama noted, Kenya has made tremendous progress economically and in the political realm; its economy is growing very fast, and its democratization process is on the right track. Kenya has one of the strongest constitutions in the region, promulgated in 2010, in which popular sovereignty, structures and powers of government, civil society, and a bill of rights are well defined.

However, the current government has made several attempts to reverse the many democratic gains that ordinary Kenyans have made to secure their rights within the 2010 constitution, under the pretext of fighting violent extremism and terrorism. Obama’s spotlight on Kenya therefore offers a tremendous opportunity to tackle the security challenges without compromising the freedom of its people.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government faces many challenges, including corruption, non-inclusive employment within the public sector, and the need to provide security and development (including empowerment of women). His government is accused of awarding public sector jobs to business associates and to the Kikuyu and the Nandis—the ethnic groups of the president and deputy president respectively—to the exclusion of the rest of Kenya’s 41 ethnicities. As a result, development is also skewed to favor these groups of the president and his deputy. It’s worth noting that the democratic space in Kenya has opened up since 1992; however, the presidency has only rotated between those two major ethnic groups in that time. Read more