The President spent the evening reuniting with his Kenyan family, including his elderly step-grandmother who made the trip to the capital of Nairobi from her rural village. US and Kenyan flags lined the main road from Nairobi's airport, and billboards heralding Obama's trip dotted the city.

"I don't think that Kenyans think of Obama as African-American. They think of him as Kenyan-American," said EJ Hogendoorn, deputy program director for Africa at the International Crisis Group.

Obama's link to Kenya is a father he barely knew, but whose influence can nonetheless be seen in his son's presidency. Obama has spoken candidly about growing up without his Kenyan-born father and feeling 'the weight of that absence'. A White House initiative to support young men of color who face similar circumstances has become a project dear to Obama, one he plans to continue after leaving the White House.

In Africa, Obama has used his late father's struggle to overcome government corruption as a way to push leaders to strengthen democracies. He's expected to make good governance and democracy-building a centerpiece of his two days of meetings and speeches in Nairobi, as well as a stop next week in Ethiopia.

"In my father's life, it was partly tribalism and patronage and nepotism in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career," Obama said during a 2009 trip to Ghana, his first visit to Africa as President. "We know that this kind of corruption is still a daily fact of life for far too many," he added.

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