Behind the Lens: Photographing the President in Kenya, again

by Pete Souza, Chief Official White House Photographer


The first time I accompanied Barack Obama to Kenya in 2006, he was a freshman U.S. Senator, ranked 99th in seniority.

I was then a staff photographer for the Chicago Tribune and had been documenting his first two years in the Senate for his hometown newspaper.

I remember then-Senator Obama meeting with NGO’s inside a building in Kibera, considered the largest slum in Africa, just outside Nairobi. When we emerged outside, thousands of people had gathered in the streets surrounding his small motorcade. With only two State Department security personnel by his side, the Senator grabbed a megaphone and made impromptu remarks to the crowd. Hundreds of people were jubilantly banging on our cars in the motorcade as we tried to depart.

Things were different this time. He arrived in Kenya as the President of the United States.

Because of security concerns, his movements around the city of Nairobi were much more limited. He was not able to visit Kibera, or his father’s village, which he had also done in 2006. Yet you could still see the excitement on people’s faces as they lined the streets along the motorcade routes and hung from trees at the Marine One helicopter landing zone. At his speech in the Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi, Secret Service agents were barely able to hold back the excited crowd as they pushed forward to try and shake his hand along the rope line.

During that same trip in 2006, the Senator had also visited the Republic of Djibouti. We weren’t able to accompany him on that leg of the trip. So instead we had to stay overnight at a hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My colleague at the time, Jeff Zeleny — the king of hotel points — was able to secure a suite at the Sheraton hotel. Nine years later, when we returned to Addis Ababa this week, President Obama stayed in the very same suite.

Greeting eight-year-old Joan Wamaitha upon arrival at Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Dining with his grandmother Sarah Onyango Obama, left, and sister Auma Obama, right, and other family members and friends at Cafe Villa Rosa in Nairobi, July 24. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
On stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with panelists Judith Owegar, co-founder of Akirachix, and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, at the United Nations compound in Nairobi, July 25. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking with June Muli, Head of Customer Care for M-Kopa Solar, during a tour of the pay-as-you-go solar home systems exhibit at the Power Africa Innovation Fair at the United Nations compound in Nairobi, July 25. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking with children at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, July 25. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Giving high fives to children at the U.S. Embassy. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking with survivors and family members of embassy employees killed in the 1998 terrorist attack on the United States Embassy in Nairobi, prior to a wreath laying at Memorial Park in Nairobi. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Laying a wreath at Memorial Park, the site of the 1998 terrorist attack on the United States Embassy in Nairobi. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Listening to the U.S. national anthem with President Kenyatta during a ceremonial welcome at the State House in Nairobi. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Reviewing the troops during the welcome ceremony. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Signing the guest book at the State House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Meeting with President Kenyatta at the State House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Walking with President Kenyatta through the courtyard at the State House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Speaking at a bilateral meeting with President Kenyatta at the State House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Answering questions during a press conference outside the State House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking with President Kenyatta following a press conference. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Dancing with sister Auma Obama, President Kenyatta, and others at the State Dinner in Nairobi, July 25. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Making remarks during the State Dinner. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Waiting to catch a glimpse of President Obama arriving at the Kenyatta landing zone in Nairobi, July 26. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Watching the President’s motorcade pass by on the way to Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi, July 26. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Taking the stage at the Safaricom Indoor Arena. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Audience members react to the President taking the stage. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Kenyatta and Auma Obama listen to President Obama’s remarks. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Listening to President Obama at the Safaricom Indoor Arena. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Waving to the audience at the conclusion of his speech. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Greeting audience members following his remarks. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Taking a selfie with his sister Auma Obama at the Safaricom Indoor Arena. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking with members of civil society at the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Center at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, July 26. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Giving a hug to Linet Momposhi Nenkoitol, 16, at the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Center at Kenyatta University. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Participating in a ceremonial welcome with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 27. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Reviewing the troops during the welcome ceremony at the National Palace in Addis Ababa. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Looking at a tapestry with Prime Minister Desalegn at the National Palace. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Meeting with staff prior to a courtesy call with President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu of Ethiopia at the National Palace. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking with President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu at the National Palace. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Signing the guest book at the National Palace. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Answering a question during a press conference with Prime Minister Desalegn at the National Palace. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking with the Prime Minister following a press conference. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Discussing South Sudan and counterterrorism issues with Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union and Uganda, at the Sheraton Addis in Addis Ababa. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Viewing the remains of “Lucy,” the 3.2 million-year-old fossilized bones of a human ancestor, at the National Palace in Addis Ababa. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Viewing “Lucy” with members of congress at the National Palace. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Sampling Ethiopian coffee during the State Dinner hosted by Prime Minister Desalegn at the National Palace in Addis Ababa. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Watching a dance troupe–former street children–perform during the State Dinner. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Greeting the catering staff at the conclusion of the State Dinner. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Touring the factory floor of Faffa Foods, which is supported by the U.S. government’s Feed the Future program, in Addis Ababa, July 28. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Stopping to talk to the press, who had to wear hair nets, during a tour of Faffa Foods. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Joining Prime Minister Desalegn, left and African Union Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, right, on the dais at the African Union in Addis Ababa, July 28. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Delivering remarks at the African Union in Addis Ababa. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Delivering remarks in Nelson Mandela Plenary Hall at the African Union. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Listening to President Obama’s remarks at the African Union. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Talking backstage with African Union Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
A hailstorm pelts the motorcade in Addis Ababa, July 28. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Viewing an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Waving goodbye from Air Force One before departing Addis Ababa. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

See other posts in the series:

Behind the Lens: Photographing the President in 50 Countries

Ahead of his 50th country visit, revisit every country he’s traveled to date.

Behind the Lens: Hugger-in-Chief

President Obama may be the Commander-in-chief. But his wife–First Lady Michelle Obama is the hugger-in-chief. See the photos.

Behind the Lens: Photographing the President in 50 States

Ahead of his visit to South Dakota, take a look at every state President Obama has visited.

Behind the Lens: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Pete Souza describes how he captured a photo of a rainbow as the President’s arrived in Kingston, Jamaica. See the photos.

Behind the Lens: Selma, 50 Years Later

Pete Souza takes you inside the President’s visit to Selma for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. See the photos.