Who did more for East Africa: President Barack Obama or Theodore Roosevelt?

Who did more for East Africa: President Barack Obama or Theodore Roosevelt?
Who did more for East Africa: President Barack Obama or Theodore Roosevelt?

Though it is true that Barack Obama was the first Kenyan heritage U.S. president to visit Kenya, history spotlights a different U.S. president as the first to not only visit Kenya, but to leave a permanent mark that testifies to the role of political diplomacy in serving humanity.  President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt believed that political power is not just necessary for advancing U.S. political interests, but to promote the core principle of the United States as expressed on the U.S. dollar, “In God we trust.” Teddy Roosevelt believed that the call of Christ in Matthew 28:19 was to all those who were Disciples of Christ, no matter their rank or status in the world.

It is this belief in the call of Christ to missions that he partnered with one of his long-time friends, a man by the name Charles Hulbert.  Hurlburt, or as people in Kijabe called him, bwana Hobati, was born in Iowa in 1860, but was raised in Oberlin, Ohio. It was Charles Hurlburt with Peter Cameron Scott and others who founded the Africa Inland Mission (AIM), from which the Africa Inland Church (AIC) was founded.  Hurlburt became the AIM director back in 1897. What is important about Charles Hurlburt is his relationship with President Teddy Roosevelt.  As a believer in Christ’s work on the cross, and a disciple of Christ, President Roosevelt wanted to actuate his faith. He wanted to fulfill the Great Commission of going into the entire world and making wana-Adamu (Children of Adam), disciples of Jesus Christ.


To this end, Charles Hurlburt approached Teddy Roosevelt (who served as U.S. president from1901 to 1909) and informed him that he was heading to Africa as a missionary to start a mission station.  Roosevelt saw this request as a call to evangelism.  Therefore, he used his position to do diplomacy on behalf of the Kingdom of God.  He negotiated with the British Empire to help secure land in Kenya on behalf of Charles Hurlburt.  It was on that land that the Kijabe mission station was founded.  To affirm that the land had been allocated, President Roosevelt visited Kenya in 1911 after leaving office.

Besides going to East Africa for a hunting safari, he spent time with his friend Charles Hurlburt at Kijabe, which he had helped acquire, which the locals called “The place of cold winds”—Kijabe.  During this time, President Roosevelt took time to survey what was going to be the largest mission station in Africa South of the Sahara.  Charles Hurlburt told him about the schools, the hospitals, the many ministries that Kijabe would have.  President Roosevelt laid the foundation of all these ministries by erecting a stone in Kijabe as a testament of his discipleship and obedience to the Christ’s call to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The stone stands in Kijabe still as the cornerstone of the first structure to be built—Kiambogo (A place of Buffalo).

After returning to the United States, Roosevelt continued to pray and to support the ministry in Kijabe. It is for this reason, and the fact that he contributed his life and money to the mission, that Kijabe Hospital was first named Theodora Hospital. To this day, Kijabe mission and its incredible ministry to East and Central Africa and the world remains a great testimony of what each of us can do if we not only claim redemption, but also actuate our faith in obedience to Yesu Kristo. President Theodore Roosevelt may not be celebrated in Kenya as President Obama was; however, in the Kingdom of God, he stands as an example of a politician who used his faith to serve Christ in obedience to the Great Commission.

First nurses Kijabe hospital:

A sick individual from Somalia was asked why he preferred to travel all the way to Kijabe Hospital instead of the other hospitals nearer to Somalia or in Nairobi or any other Kenyan hospital.  His reply was, “Christians serve us on behalf of God, and therefore we trust them.”

In that statement, this Kijabe Hospital patient testified that what U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt did on behalf of Christ is not in vain.  My grandfather, the Rev. Johanna Nyenjeri, met President Roosevelt in 1911, having arrived in Kijabe in 1905. He witnessed the breaking ground of Theodore Roosevelt memorial hospital back in 1915 and the modern hospital in the 1950s, (see caption in the middle with a hat. He was the first Kenyan pastor of AIC Kijabe).

Kijabe Hospital 1950s Ground breaking

This article celebrates President Theodore Roosevelt, Rev. Charles Hurlburt, Ted Teasdale, Edward DeYoung, and the thousands of American Christians through whom Kijabe mission has served millions on behalf of Christ the Redeemer.

By Teddy Njoroge Kamau (PhD)

HTBluff Associates

Diaspora Messenger Senior Columnist

For more on Charles Hurlburt please read:

Hurlburt, Charles E. (1860-1936)

WOW:Kijabe-Only town in Kenya that sells no alcohol, no cigarettes

Who did more for East Africa:  President Barack Obama or Theodore Roosevelt?

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