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Don’t ‘beautify’ Nairobi just for Barack!

United States

ninara under a Creative Commons Licence

In anticipation of the visit of US President Barack Obama to Nairobi this week, the government is spending almost $500,000 to ‘clean up’ the city.

In what will be his first visit to Kenya since becoming president, Obama is scheduled to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a White House initiative that brings together entrepreneurs and investors from around the world, which will run from 24 to 26 July.

To beef up security, the US will fly in 800 of its own officers and Kenya will provide 2,000 additional elite officers from the Recce Squad, especially trained by the US. Vehicles and other special communication equipment have begun arriving in Nairobi. More than 50 of the 60 vehicles that the US president and his team will use are said to be in the country already.

To create a ‘good impression’, the Kenyan government announced that it will move poor families from the streets ahead of Obama’s visit, while also erecting CCTV security cameras.

According to Kenya’s presidential spokesperson, Manoah Esipisu, at least 1,500 investors from all over the world, including 250 Kenyans, are expected to participate in the summit.

He said the meeting would help in the creation of jobs and result in bilateral agreements with the potential to scale up entrepreneurship in Kenya, particularly in the technology and financial-service sectors. In addition, the summit will boost small-scale businesses, especially those run by the youth.

But Nairobi County government insists that the current ‘clean-up’ is not about Obama’s imminent arrival. County minister for the environment Evans Ondieki says the beautification is part of the government’s Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan, with a budget of $1.8 million for development of infrastructure within the city.

‘This is not about Obama; it is about making Nairobi the city of the future,’ Ondieki said. He says the programme was put in place because the city will host a cancer conference this month, the Pope in November, and a World Health Organization meeting in December.

But these statements do not seem convincing to many Kenyans, who believe the ‘beautification’ is aimed at pleasing the US entourage.

‘Rains will expose the fakeness of this unplanned, superficial “beautification”. It’s like putting lipstick and makeup on a pig because guests are coming,’ said social-media commentator KenyaRenaissance.

Abraham Rugo, a public-sector researcher, says Obama’s visit is more beneficial to the US than to Kenya.

‘The opportunities are more for the West to benefit from than for Kenya, unless the Kenyan government has a very firm system of promoting Kenya businesses abroad… I see Obama’s visit as being more symbolism that the US still holds Kenya as a strategic partner, and not so much the economic value it will bring,’ he argues.

Rugo adds that the value of Obama’s visit is in the investment opportunities that are likely to come from the perceived endorsement of the Kenyatta government, which Obama had so strongly opposed.
Kenyan security expert Ben Muoki says that Obama’s visit will come with lots of inconveniences for Nairobians.

‘I would advise that people keep completely away [from the city]. If I have an office or home near there [the city centre], the expected disruptions are sufficient for me to plan for the weekend upcountry,’ Muoki warns.

He predicts that even though terrorists may not attempt to attack the US president directly because of tight security, they may attempt to stage disruptive attacks in other Kenyan towns. ‘Remember, the world media will be here and people like al-Shabaab will all want to be covered by them in relation to this event,’ he says.

Enock Opuka, a lecturer at Africa International University, says Kenyans should be more concerned about their everyday security and development as a nation instead of focusing so much on Obama.
‘Nothing will change. The political leaders with the vitriol against Obama will spoil the visit… The visit will not increase trade or anything. It will be business as usual.’

He was alluding to the fact that last week a group of religious leaders and parliamentarians, including the speaker of the National Assembly, warned President Obama against speaking on the issue of gay rights during his visit. He is expected to address Kenya’s parliament during his 3-day visit.

It is still unclear whether the US president will meet Kenya’s vice-president, William Ruto, who is under investigation at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. When he was in Kenya recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry avoided the vice-president.

Since his itinerary is not yet out, it is also uncertain whether Obama will visit his grandmother in his late father’s home. Obama’s Kenyan kin have requested him to do so.

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