Traders hope to cash in as Obama fever grips Kenya

Saturday July 11 2015

Hosea Owuor displays for sale an Obama T-shirts in Kisumu ahead of US President Barrack Obama’s trip to Kenya. Each T-shirt goes for between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000. FILE PHOTO

Hosea Owuor displays for sale an Obama T-shirts in Kisumu ahead of US President Barrack Obama’s trip to Kenya. Each T-shirt goes for between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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With less than two weeks before US President Barack Obama’s plane touches down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, some entrepreneurs are coming up with all ways to cash in on the buzz the visit is creating.

The US leader often creates ripples wherever he goes because of his global appeal and entrepreneurs are not averse to using his name to boost business.

In Kenya, the country of his father’s birth, the Obama fever is high with products bearing his name slowly appearing on the streets.

The US President, who will be in Nairobi for the sixth World Entrepreneurship Summit, may not need to buy a pen while in the country but already one branded “Obama Smoothline” is on sale in Nairobi.

The pen, manufactured by Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation in India, is proving popular according to hawkers and retailers. “The pen is cheap plus it has Obama’s name on it. A number of people who bought it specifically asked for it,” said hawker Philip Mwaura.

Local artists and branding companies have joined the frenzy, with a number of people spotted wearing T-shirts and caps with the American president’s name or picture.

Mr Patrick Andayi, who prints stationery products near Globe Cinema Roundabout, said he had received over a dozen orders for banners and calendars, never mind that the year is half gone.


“I am clearing a backlog I have then I start working on the Obama merchandise. People are excited by his visit and this is big business for printers,” he said.

The Nairobi City County Business Association has urged traders to take advantage of the opportunities the summit will present.

“Entrepreneurs must strive to reap maximum benefits,” said association chairman David Gachuru.

“Hotels should up their game and attraction sites should be spruced up. We must make sure we market our city in the very best way possible,” he said.

The public transport sector too has been caught up in the Obama frenzy and matatus, which are known to move with trends, are being adorned with Obama themed graffiti, creating booming business for fabricators and artists.

A number of operators are repainting their vehicles while most new owners want their vehicles emblazoned with Obama graffiti, said Mr James Kimani, the managing director of Dodi Body Builders.

“Matatus are part of Nairobi culture. Right now the country is besotted with Mr Obama’s visit and investors are willing to pump in money to be part of this,” he said.

For instance, a new matatu belonging to Metro Trans that plies the Kasarani route is plastered with portraits of President Obama, former President Abraham Lincoln and activist Martin Luther King.

According State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu, at least 1,500 investors from all over the world, including 250 Kenyans, are expected to take part in the summit, that runs from July 22-26.

A number of African leaders are expected to attend although organisers have insisted that they come as ordinary participants and not as heads of state to avoid deviating attention from the event.

The Nairobi County Government is in the middle of a massive beautification of the capital that has seen major roads recarpeted. In Kisumu, close to the Siaya ancestral home of the US leader, the excitement has reached fever pitch even though it has not been confirmed if he will drop by to see his grandmother.

Mr Hosea Owuor, who normally sells Gor Mahia Football Club T-shirts but has diversified to Obama branded ones, said sales had trebled in the past three weeks.