Don't make Nairobi beautiful just for Barack!

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Don’t make Nairobi beautiful just for Barack!

By Moses Wasamu


ninara under a Creative Commons Licence

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

This is his first visit to Kenya since he became president. Obama is going to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit for entrepreneurs and investors around the world from 24 to 26 July.

To improve security, the US is sending 800 American officers and Kenya will provide 2,000 special officers from the Recce Squad, trained by the US. Many vehicles and other special communication equipment are arriving in Nairobi. More than 50 vehicles are already there of the 60 vehicles that the US president and his team will use.

To create a ‘good impression’, the Kenyan government said that it will move poor families from the streets before Obama’s visit, and put up CCTV security cameras.

Kenya’s presidential spokesperson, Manoah Esipisu, said that at least 1,500 investors from all over the world, including 250 Kenyans, are coming to the summit.

He said the meeting would help create more jobs and people would agree to increase entrepreneurship in Kenya, particularly in technology and financial-services. Also, the summit will be good for small-scale businesses, especially for young people.

But Nairobi County government says the ‘clean-up’ is not only for Obama. County minister for the environment Evans Ondieki says this is part of the government’s Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan – they have $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 they are cleaning the city because of a cancer conference this month, the Pope in November, and a World Health Organization meeting in December.

But many Kenyans think the ‘beautification’ is to please the Americans.

‘It’s just a superficial clean up. Like putting makeup on a pig because guests are coming,’ said social-media commentator KenyaRenaissance.

Abraham Rugo, a researcher, says the US will benefit more from Obama’s visit than Kenya.

‘There are more opportunities for the West to benefit than for Kenya, unless the Kenyan government has a very good system of promoting Kenya businesses abroad ... I see Obama’s visit as symbolic - showing that the US still thinks Kenya is a good partner, and not so much for the economic value,’ he says.

Rugo says that Obama’s visit will be good for the investment that will probably come if people think the US approves of the Kenyatta government - Obama was against it before.

Kenyan security expert Ben Muoki says that Obama’s visit will bring a lot of difficulties for Nairobians.

‘People should stay away away [from the city]. It’s best to go away for the weekend,’ Muoki says.

He says terrorists may not try to attack the US president directly because of tight security. But there might be attacks in other Kenyan towns. ‘Remember, the world media will be here and people like al-Shabaab will all want attention,’ he says.

Enock Opuka, a lecturer at Africa International University, says Kenyans should be more worried about their everyday security and development as a country – not focusing so much on Obama.

‘Nothing will change. The political leaders angry at Obama will spoil the visit… The visit will not increase trade or anything. It will be business as usual.’

He was talking about last week when a group of religious leaders and parliamentarians said President Obama should not talk about gay rights in Kenya. He will talk to Kenya’s parliament during his 3-day visit.

We do not know if Obama will meet Kenya’s vice-president, William Ruto. Ruto is under investigation at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. When John Kerry, US Secretary of State, was in Kenya recently, he did not meet the vice-president.

We also do not know if Obama will visit his grandmother in his late father’s home. Obama’s Kenyan family have asked him to.

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