Low-key arrival won't dampen Kenyans' welcome of Barack Obama

Sunday July 15 2018

US President Barack Obama

Artist Zuber Bakhrani finalises former US President Barack Obama’s portrait yesterday ahead of his arrival this afternoon as Kenyans welcome his visit in style. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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When former US President Barack Obama lands at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Sunday afternoon, it will be a stark contrast to the last visit he made to Nairobi in July 2015.

Then he was a sitting President and the leader of the world’s only super power and the position came with perks accorded to the office holder.

When he arrived on Friday, July 24, 2015, Nairobi was in complete shutdown from air and land but, tonight, those who do not follow news keenly will not notice that he is around.

This time round his visit is mainly being co-ordinated by the Obama Foundation, an organisation he set up after he left office.

“Former President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Kenya is a private visit by a former President. He will be in Kenya as a private citizen. Any questions regarding his visit should be directed to the Obama Foundation or its representatives. The US Embassy in Nairobi is supporting US agencies providing security for the former President,” read a message from Public Affairs Section, US Embassy, Nairobi, when the Nation contacted them on Mr Obama’s visit.


Mr Obama will be in the country until Monday and he is expected to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House on Sunday evening before he leaves for his ancestral village in K’Ogelo, Siaya, on Monday morning.

Later in the day, he will travel to South Africa where he will give the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture and also meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

This is the first visit the former president is making to Africa since leaving office on January 20, 2017 after serving two terms.

But it is not the first visit by a former president of America. Teddy Roosevelt and Bill Clinton visited Kenya after they left office.

Despite having left office, the former president still enjoys Secret Service protection albeit low-key, compared to when he was the president.

Mr Obama has refrained from discussing US political affairs but it is unlikely he will keep off commenting on Kenya’s political landscape.


Enjoying a near universal approval in Kenya, Mr Obama’s message at State House will be keenly analysed as the country gears up for presidential transition amid an accelerated war against corruption.
When he visited Nairobi in 2015, Americans literally took over our capital.

Kenyan journalists covering Mr Obama during the visit, including this one, had a feel of what it is like to cover the highly secured President of the United States of America.

Journalists were expected to be at the airport at least six hours before his arrival. Air Force One touched down at JKIA shortly before 8 pm, which means journalists were at the airport by 2 pm.
What followed were three rounds of checks that bordered on intrusion. There was first a reading of names which media houses had sent earlier and if one’s name was missing, they had to leave immediately.
Thereafter, US security officials accompanied by sniffer dogs meticulously checked the journalists' bags and tools of trade.

There were metal detectors and physical checks before the journalists were ushered into the holding area about two hours before President Obama arrived.

It was at the holding area that journalists discovered that the US had set up a full-fledged hospital complete with a theatre manned by nurses and doctors from the US military.

This was to be the first point of call if the US President was to need medical attention of whatever nature.

Guests at any event that Obama attended had to arrive at least six hours earlier for security checks which explains why no event that President Obama attended started before noon.

Obama’s visit was also an opportunity for Americans to showcase their military prowess.

Apart from Air Force One and Marine One — the President's official planes —there were about five V-22 Osprey and several Blackhawk helicopters.

But today, the former President will arrive in a chartered aircraft but that won’t deter Kenyans from savouring the moment for their most famous son.