US President Barack Obama has commended Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for his commitment to rooting out corruption in the East African nation, saying the issue was a key reason why the economy was not growing even faster.

The two leaders spoke at a joint news conference in Nairobi on Saturday during which they also addressed issues relating to the armed group al-Shabab in neighbouring Somalia and gay and lesbian rights in Kenya and the continent.

"This may be the biggest impediment to Kenya growing faster," Obama said after holding talks with Kenyatta behind closed doors.

He also praised Kenyatta for making corruption a top priority of his administration.


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Obama nudged African states to treat gays and lesbians equally under the law, a position that remains unpopular through much of the continent.

Kenyatta responded by calling the matter a "non-issue" for his country.

Earlier in the day, Obama praised the African continent for its economic advancements while co-hosting a summit on global entrepreneurship with Kenyatta in Nairobi.

He called Africa "one of the fastest growing regions in the world".

Earlier Obama said "Africa is on the move" in his first official engagement since arriving in Kenya on Friday.

Obama attends a private dinner in Nairobi with his Kenyan family members including his step-grandmother, Sarah, and half-sister, Auma [Reuters]

"People are being lifted out of poverty, incomes are up, the middle class is growing and young people like you are harnessing technology to change the way Africa is doing business," he told the global entrepreneurship summit.

Sharing the stage with Obama at the summit, Kenyatta also voiced optimism towards a brighter future for the continent.

"The narrative of African despair is false, and indeed was never true," Kenyatta said. "Let them know that Africa is open and ready for business."

The visit is Obama's first as president, and is also the first time a sitting US president will visit Ethiopia and the African Union's headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Obama is expected to address regional security issues and trade, and also touch on matters relating to democracy, poverty, and human rights in the region.

Obama's trip has come under fire from rights groups, and more than 50 African and global human rights organisations have called on him to publicly meet democracy activists on the ground.

They voiced concerns about "grave and worsening" rights challenges in both Kenya and Ethiopia.

In Addis Ababa, Obama is expected to address leaders of the AU.

Obama's visit to Kenya - the first by a sitting US president - has been long sought by the East African nation where he is widely considered a local son.


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Acknowledging that some Kenyans have been frustrated that it took him until the seventh year of his presidency to visit, Obama joked that he did not want the rest of Africa to think he was "playing favourites".

Still, he noted the US had concerns about violence that erupted in Kenya after its 2007 election.

Kenyatta faced charges related to that violence in the Hague-based International Criminal Court, though those charges were later dropped.

However, William Ruto, the deputy president, still faces charges at the ICC.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies