* Obama on first visit to Kenya as president
* E.African state is homeland of Obama’s father
* Security high on agenda of U.S. president’s visit
* Kenya hit by spate of Islamist attacks (Adds comment by Kenyatta, Obama at start of talks)
NAIROBI, July 25 (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama said in Kenya on Saturday that African entrepreneurs could help counter violent ideologies and make the continent a hub for global growth, helping create opportunities in Africa that offset any threat from terrorism.
Obama was speaking during the first U.S. presidential visit to Kenya, which is his father’s homeland and the biggest economy in east Africa but has also suffered from a spate of attacks by Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab.
President Uhuru Kenyatta called the United States a “very strong supporter of Kenya” and said his country needed help to tackle security threats. “No single country can deal with this problem,” he said in talks with Obama. “We need to partner.”
Before the two leaders held closed-door discussions, Obama told Kenyatta: “The challenges of terrorism are ones that have to be addressed, but the opportunities for growth and prosperity … are the things that the people of Africa are most hungry for.”
Obama, who was welcomed at State House with a gun salute, said Kenya was an example of the opportunities Africa offered.
The talks at State House were attended by Deputy President William Ruto, who is facing charges at the International Criminal Court that he fomented ethnic killings after Kenya’s disputed 2007 election. He denies the charges. Kenyatta had faced similar charges, but these have since been dropped.
Earlier on Saturday, Obama spoke at a Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a U.S.-sponsored initiative to boost business ties with Africa, where China overtook the United States as the continent’s biggest trade partner in 2009.
“Africa is on the move. Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world,” Obama told the conference, where he was greeted by applause as he began with the words “Jambo”, the Swahili for “hello”. “It is wonderful to be back in Kenya.”
He continued: “Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.”
“OPEN FOR BUSINESS”
He said government also needed to help by establishing the rule of law and curbing corruption, mentioning two issues often cited by businesses as major obstacles to investment.
An array of technology and other companies have started up in recent years in Africa in a bid to shift the continent away from a traditional focus of commodity exports, but entrepreneurs often complain they cannot find affordable capital to operate.
“Africa is open for business,” Kenyatta said in his speech to the entrepreneurship conference.
Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by about 6 percent this year. The economy of Ethiopia, Obama’s next stop, is forecast to expand by more than 10 percent, although right groups say Addis Ababa’s economic achievements are at the expense of free speech.
After attending the conference, Obama laid a wreath to victims of the 1998 bombing by Islamist militants of the U.S. Embassy. The site of the attack in central Nairobi is now a memorial park. The new mission is further from the centre.
Kenya has been hit by a spate of attacks in the past two years launched by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab. In 2013, al Shabaab gunmen assaulted Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, leaving at least 67 people dead.
In April, al Shabaab attacked a university in Kenya’s northeast near the Somali border, killing 148 people.
Some Africans complain that Obama, whose father is buried in western Kenya, has not paid enough attention to the continent in his presidency. Obama has sought to change that perception, in part by hosting African leaders in Washington last year.