Barack Obama jets in today on his first visit to Kenya as US President as the city goes into security lockdown. President Obama was last in Kenya, his father’s birthplace, as the junior Senator from Illinois in 2006. Today he returns to a presidential reception on a day Kenya’s airspace will be closed for 40 minutes to allow Air Force One to land.
President Obama is in Kenya as cohost of the Sixth Entrepreneurial Summit with President Uhuru Kenyatta at the UN Complex, Gigiri, Nairobi. The two leaders will also hold bilateral talks at State House, Nairobi. As a result of his visit several highways and roads, including Mombasa Road, will be closed, bank branches, especially in the Westlands and Gigiri areas, will be closed from noon today and most primary and day secondary schools have closed until Monday.
Yesterday State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed and American Ambassador Robert Godec announced that all plans for the historic visit were complete.
CS Amina disclosed that Kenya was looking forward to signing at least four deals with the US relating to infrastructure, health, visa extension and taxation. “This visit says a lot of good things about our country and the confidence the US has in us. The visit shows that Kenya currently has the right leadership,” Amina said. Opposition leader Raila Odinga asked Kenyans to accord Obama a heroic welcome.
“The world over, we are known for our friendliness towards visitors. We have a historic chance to put this on display in a significant way,” Raila said in a statement to newsrooms after a meeting with Cord co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula. Air Force One is expected to touch down in Nairobi this evening, with Uhuru on hand to welcome Obama at JKIA.
On Wednesday night, Obama said he was looking forward to his fourth visit to Africa since he was elected. “Despite its many challenges — and we have to be clear-eyed about all the challenges that the continent still faces — Africa is a place of incredible dynamism, some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, extraordinary people, extraordinary resilience,” Obama said at a reception.
The continent “has the potential to be the next centre of global economic growth”, he said at the event, which celebrated the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the US trade legislation that aims to help boost Africa’s prosperity. Obama is accompanied by members of Congress, his Cabinet and other gove r n m e n t o f f i c i a l s . First Lady Mi c h e l l e Obama and their daughters are not coming to Kenya.
There is palpable excitement in Kenya over Obama’s visit, which will also see the US leader address the GES 2015 and the public at Kenya University and Kasarani Stadium. Yesterday, Godec urged Kenyans not to travel to the venue of the Kasarani speech, saying it will be broadcast countrywide and those attending must have invitations. Although Godec said there would be “no major interruptions” of mobile phone communications and air travel when Obama is in the country, Safari c o m announced that there will be network disruptions.
The disruptions will be erratic, depending on the location of visiting heads of state and accompanying dignitaries attending the GES. The disruptions will include commercial and residential areas along Mombasa Road, the Thika Superhighway, Limuru Road, Waiyaki Way, Uhuru Highway and estates near State House, where presidents Obama and Kenyatta will hold talks. Areas around the United Nations Office in Gigiri will also be affected. Yesterday Kenyans, among them Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery protested to US global broadcaster CNN for referring to Kenya as “a terror hotbed”.
“This announcement is based on lies and without verification. It demonstrates heightened irresponsibility by the media network and smacks of arrogance,” said Nkaissery. Obama will meet some of his extended family members who live in Kenya and will not travel to his ancestral home of Kogelo, Nyanza. A ban on planes flying lower than 20,000 feet will remain in place in Nairobi for the duration of Obama’s three-day visit, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority announced.
Kenyan airspace will also be closed for a further 40 minutes on Sunday, when President Obama leaves for neighbouring Ethiopia. Obama is scheduled to visit the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa and meet Ethiopian government officials, sidestepping concerns about that country’s human rights record.