Sunday, July 12, 2015

Kenya prepares for Obama’s big visit

Nairobi - The entrepreneurial spirit of Kenyans has come alive as the country gets ready to welcome US President Barack Obama to the country this Friday for the first time since 2006, when he came to Nairobi as the Chicago senator.
Obama’s three-day visit will mark a historic moment in Kenya’s 52-year-old history, as it marks the first time that a sitting US President will be visiting the country on an official State visit. It is the familial ties that have Kenyans scheming about how to make money.
Obama’s name is an industry in the land of his father. The last time he came to Kenya, the Kenya Breweries Limited, Kenya’s biggest beer-maker, rode on his celebrity status to sell a cheap keg beer aptly named Senator. When Obama was vying for the presidency in 2008, entrepreneurs came up with Obama T-shirts and caps, and they sold big time. Now he’s coming back, and the businessmen are getting ready.
On Tom Mboya Street in downtown Nairobi – a street named after an independence-era minister, the man who airlifted Kenyans, including the father of the US President, Barack Obama Sr, to study in the US – the photo studios are advertising their wares using passport-size photos of the US president.
Magazines, TV stations and newspapers are running stories about Obama, and so is the Kenya National Theatre, which will be staging a musical on the life and times of the US president with key facts gleaned from the book Dreams From my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and the presidency.
Independent Media got in touch with award-winning thespian George Orido to ask him why he prepared the musical at this time. He answered that the play was staged to coincide with the visit so that Kenyans and Obama get to understand the familial ties and the craze about his Kenyan heritage.
“If he wasn’t coming home, there’d be no point. But now that he’s coming, it’s a momentous occasion for us to show the world what he’s made of,” said Orido, whose musical premieres on Tuesday. And yes, he’s already sent a note to the US Embassy inviting Obama and his entourage. A week ago, Deputy President William Ruto and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin Muturi, ratcheted up the anti-gay rhetoric, telling Obama and his entourage that Kenya had no room for gay people.
By upping the ante on the anti-gay talk, the two leaders spawned a demonstration on Monday by anti-gay activists led by a member of parliament, Irungu Kang’ata, who insisted the US President be clearly informed that Kenya will not entertain rights for gay people.
“We are telling Obama (that) when he comes to Kenya this month and he tries to bring the abortion agenda, the gay agenda, we shall tell him to shut up and go home,” the MP told his retinue of protesters, which included the Kenya Christian Professional Forum and a group of university students who all wore white T-shirts and chanted slogans such as “Protect the family!”
In Kenya, homosexuality is a crime punishable by up to 21 years in jail, with no option of a fine, as per the Penal Code. The White House this week said Obama will not be gagged.
The Kenyan government also bets on the trip to lift its fortunes, especially after a barrage of travel advisories that have hit the country’s tourism hard. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s spokesman, Manoah Esipisu, said Obama’s visit was an endorsement of Kenya as a safe investment destination.
The government and businessmen have already booked acres of space at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre – the biggest exhibition venue in the middle of the city – to showcase their wares, and sell opportunities from tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and the technology and service industry.
The streets, too, are getting a facelift, with Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero in a hurry to plant flowers on the road from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the city centre. Cabinet’s approved Sh953million (R100m) for the facelift of Nairobi, but they were quick to de-link it from the Obama visit.
On Friday, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohammed said Kenya and American officials will be meeting next week to put final touches on Obama’s itinerary. It’s only then that the world will know whether Obama will visit his grandmother, Sarah Obama, who has promised him a meal of smoked fish and chicken if he visits the village in Kogelo, in South Western Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria.
For now, it is the hoteliers smiling all the way to the bank, as they’ve recorded full bookings between July 24 and 27, when the summit will be running.
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