Sunday, July 12, 2015

Kenya cleans up ahead of Obama visit

NAIROBI,  Kenya—The Nairobi county government is spending the equivalent of about $500,000 to spruce up the city ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya later this month. More than 500 members of the National Youth Service have been hired to unclog drainage, clear bushes, and cut grass on major roads that will be used by the Obama entourage. And to create a good impression, the county government announced it will relocate families living on the streets, where a network of closed-circuit security cameras are going up.
Crews also have re-surfaced the road in front of the Kenya’s parliament, and cleaned up around Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), where some meetings will take place. 
According to Kenya’s presidential spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, at least 1,500 investors from all over the world, including 250 Kenyans, are expected to participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a White House initiative that brings together entrepreneurs and investors. It will run from July 24-26.
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But Nairobi County officials insist the current beautification program is not about Obama’s visit. The minister for environment, Evans Ondieki, claims the projects are part of the county government's Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan, with a budget of about $1.8 million for development of city infrastructure. 
“This is not about Obama, it is about making Nairobi the city of the future,” he said. 
Ondieki said the program was put in place because the city will host a cancer conference this month, the pope’s visit in November, and a World Health Organization meeting in December. And he focused on the other visitors converging on the city as part of Obama’s summit.
Briefing the media in Nairobi, Ondieki said the meeting would link up investors with enterprises, help in the creation of jobs and result in bilateral agreements that have the potential to scale-up entrepreneurship in Kenya, more so in the technology and financial service sectors. He said the summit will boost small-scale businesses, especially those run by youth.
But his claims aren’t convincing many Kenyans, who believe the beautification is aimed at pleasing the Obama entourage, a gesture that has little value to everyday Kenyans.
Abraham Rugo, a public sector researcher, believes Obama’s visit is more beneficial to America than to Kenya.
“The opportunities are more for the West to benefit than for Kenya, unless the Kenyan government has a very firm system of promoting Kenyan businesses abroad. … I see Obama’s visit as being more of a symbolism that the United States still holds Kenya as a strategic partner, and not so much the economic value it will bring,” he said.
The value of Obama’s visit is the investment opportunities that are likely to come out of what will seem like an endorsement for the Uhuru Kenyatta Government, which he had so strongly opposed, Rugo said.
While Kenya has seen high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years, Kenyan security expert Ben Muoki does not expect any direct attacks during Obama’s visit. Instead, terrorists 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 said.
Enock Opuka, a lecturer at Africa International University urges Kenyans to be more concerned about their year-round security and development as a nation, instead of focusing so much on Obama’s visit. 
“Nothing will change,” he said. “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.”
It remains unclear whether Obama will meet Kenya’s deputy president, who has charges pending against him at the International Criminal Court. Since his itinerary hasn't been released yet, it’s also uncertain whether he will visit his grandmother in the village where his late father grew up. His relatives made a formal request for the visit.
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