The American flags have already been hoisted at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), roads beautified, street families swept off the streets and the media has speculated about every detail of his trip sending the whole country into “Obamamania”.
However, when US President Barack Obama touches down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) this week on a historic trip to his father’s homeland, he will be carrying a heavy burden of expectations on his shoulders.
Although the purpose of his visit will be to host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, an invite-only affair for 3,000 delegates at the KICC, politicians, industry leaders have already created a wish list on what they expect the visit from “their son” will achieve.
The opposition is thought to be setting ground on corruption in government and electoral reforms as some of the things they expect the American president to address.
On Friday Cord Principal Raila Odinga made a fresh push to have Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Issack Hassan step aside over graft allegations saying they were being shielded. Similar to the opposition, a section of the civil society also wants President Obama to pressure the government to deal with graft.
“The fight against terrorism has gained traction across Africa and there is a lot of concentration on how to deal with extremists, which is understandable but Western countries seem to have given corruption fight a back seat,” said former Ethics PS John Githongo.
“The fight against graft has been left to civil society and the media, we want the US to partner with us. If you try to fight terrorism with a corrupt government it would never work because most of the money will be disappearing,” he said.
Mr Githongo, who heads Inuka Trust Kenya, argued that Mr Obama should also pressure the government to open up democratic space.
“The civil society and the media have been put under pressure since 2013. Weakening these two institutions undermines democracy. It would be wrong if the leader of the world’s remaining super power does not talk about this,” he said.
However, Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko has warned the opposition of being too optimistic, warning them against using Obama’s visit to raise non-issues, terming the visit as an approval of the Jubilee government.
“Obama cannot help solve our problems because they need home-made solutions. Raising non-issues against the government when we have an important visitor shows how indisciplined they are,” he said.
Tourism industry players want Mr Obama to cancel the long-standing travel advisory issued by his country while he is in Kenya in order to send a message that the country is safe for travel.
“We know he will talk about terrorism but our wish would be that as he talks about it he also mentions the issues of travel advisories because by him coming here, when his country has just issued a travel warning, it means the country is safe,” said Lucy Karume, the Chairperson Kenya Tourism Federation.
She added: “Travel bans do not help the situation. Instead they are sending the youth who have been rendered jobless to join extremist groups therefore worsening an already bad situation.”
Business experts want the US to assist Kenya become safer for investment in order to stabilise the shilling from shocks. They also want stronger bilateral ties between the two countries so that Kenyan companies can export more products to the US.
“The presence of American brands in Kenya is expanding but Kenyan companies are lacking capital in order to invest,” said Johnstone Nderi advisory manager at ABC Capital.
He added: “Stronger bilateral ties are the only way Kenyan businesses can improve because by that would increase savings in the economy and save the shilling.”
For the mwananchi, the thought of having America’s leader in the country will give Kenya the positive image it needs in order to propel itself economically.
“Apart from athletics there has been so much negative perception about the country stemming from terrorism and corruption,” said Mr Alex Orenge from Kericho.
“Investors will realise that Kenya is a county that you can invest in. The net effect of this is more jobs will be created,” he added.
However for Stanley Onchagwa, a marketer in Kisii, wishes he can have audience with the Shark Tank cast.
Billionaires Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Daymond John, founder of Fubu fashion line, will be among the key speakers at the summit.
“Hopefully they will film an episode and promote one or two entrepreneurs with their dollars because I know they love publicity,” he said.
Ms Eunice Atieno, a student in Nairobi wants the American government to make it easier for Kenyan students to get scholarships from American universities.
“More scholarships for Kenyan students and exchange programmes between Kenyan universities and those in the US would be a big boost.
“We want direct admission to American universities and not subjecting students to pre-university courses and exams. You also have to apply for standardisation of Kenyan grades into American system which is unnecessary,” she said.
An intelligent and caring leader who has inspired a whole generation
When the Sunday Nation asked me to share my recollection about my short encounter with Barack Obama, then the third elected African American US Senator, when he visited Kenya in 2007, my first reaction was to decline, and suggest that I was not qualified do so.
I was eventually persuaded that I was among the few Kenyans that could speak with some authority.
At a personal level, Obama has been exemplary and has been, at every step, a role model. As a world leader, family man, crusader for the less fortunate and even a defender of wildlife in Africa his credentials are tops.
His administration recently put up millions of dollars to support the fight against wildlife crime, well before many in official quarters in Kenya had woken up to the reality that our elephants and rhinos were faced with imminent extinction due to unchecked poaching.
To the underdogs, Africans in general and Kenyans in particular, he has been a huge source of inspiration. In many homes in Kenya, it is not uncommon to find posters of Obama alongside those of legends like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
In the meeting, which I together with representatives of civil society attended, Obama had clearly prepared for the discussion as he directed informed questions at every person in the room.
At the time, he was concerned about the rising levels of corruption in Kenya, a subject that will certainly be discussed during the current visit.
To those who cared to look beyond the obvious, even then it was apparent that Obama was going places. Indeed, a few months later he occupied the White House as the President of the United States.
While Obama may not have succeeded in all his election pledges during his presidential tenure, he has never lost his composure, and has continued to offer consistent leadership on the world stage. Kenyan leaders have a lot to learn from him.
He exemplifies what should be the expectation of citizens about their president. An almost flawless demeanour, carefully considered and calculated utterances and decisions, in the knowledge that, everything said and done will be carefully be dissected by friends and foe alike. All this serves to ease the compromise on which all positive social change is based.
Kenyans are all proud of President Obama.
As Kenya eagerly awaits Obama’s visit, I will be among those who will reflect on the missed opportunities, especially in matters related to the fight against global terrorism. But then again, it’s never too late.
To leave you with Obama’s profound words of hope, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other thing. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
I learnt leadership lessons from the man
I met then Senator Barack Obama for breakfast at Serena Hotel as part of a six-member civil society team when he visited Kenya.
The others were Jane Onyango, former Director of FIDA; Maina Kiai, formerly of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights; Betty Murungi, then of Urgent Action fund; the CEO of Muhuri and a sixth person I cannot remember.
The breakfast was for roughly more than two hours and I was struck and amazed at his leadership style. I emulated this in my own campaigns and I have written about it in chapter 1 of my bookLeadership Unpacked – lessons for Aspiring Women Leaders under the title “Be humane-invest in people”.
I learnt from him one of the most enduring leadership lessons that even helped in my campaigns — being human and investing in people. He was down-to-earth and treated each of us like we were old buddies. I sat right next to him and he took off his jacket and flung his hand around my chair like we were best friends. He made me have a paradigm shift on leadership.
Leadership that resonates with people is a leadership that is “humane, normal and unassuming”. However, I was also happy with his focus on human rights and governance issues. This is my passion and I was happy that he was focused on that. He was there with Michelle and the girls and they were going about like it was not a big deal. It was in sharp contrast with leadership as we were used to in Kenya.
I was happy he recognised us as part of a team that can bring hope and change to the country. He recognised our commitment and work on governance and human rights.
I am still focused on the same issues and hope to meet him when he comes and even if I don’t, I would like him to know that the six of us are still committed to the same ideals but in different sectors. I have sponsored several human rights specific laws including being one of the “Founding fathers” of our new Constitution.
Did I imagine he would be President? Absolutely. I had not doubt in my mind.
His presence made my knees grow weak
It was June 2006 and I vividly recall how the management of Basecamp, where I used to work, summoned employees and told us that there were VIPs that were to come in two days time.
Although they did not disclose who they were, we had to make sure we were ready in every field that one was assigned for. I was only 29 years old and operating as a tour guide and knew I had to make sure the vehicles were all in good condition.
A day to the visit, we saw a convoy of personal and security vehicles arrive at Basecamp, and this is when we were told that the guest who was coming the following day to our facility was Senator Barack Obama and his family.
My heart skipped a beat, and I knew the best thing for me to avoid getting embarrassed was to go back to my books and get everything clear in my mind once again. It was not because I was not familiar with my territory, but just to make sure I was not going to skip a point. Senator Obama arrived with his security detail in the morning. I was the one going to take him round the National Reserve.
Although I had prepared myself, I was shaking since I have never in my career of a tour guide ever hosted such a dignitary.
First, I was among the staff that welcomed him in our camp with wet white towels because it was a hot day before we took them to Talek River where we had set up a bar comprising of all sorts of refreshment and food. After two hours, Obama and his family were brought to the green open Land Cruiser that I used to take them round but before he could board, he greeted me by hugging me on one shoulder.
I, too, showed him how we the Masaai shake hands while greeting men and how we greet women by touching their heads. For the demonstration on saluting women, I did it with his wife Michelle and her two daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama.
After driving a few kilometres towards the heart of Mara, suddenly Obama got glued to my rungu(club) and my beaded sword that I had tucked in my leather belt round my waist.
By then I was clad in red shuka, a symbol of the Masaai community. He asked me what they were for and whether I could offer him similar paraphernalia.
I assured him I was going to give him one. What I would love most is to meet him since we had unfinished business — that of awarding him with another club, this time of a leader beaded with colours of both Kenya and US national flags.