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Obama puts Kenya in touch with her conscience

By Henry Munene | Published Sat, July 25th 2015 at 00:00, Updated July 25th 2015 at 00:09 GMT +3

So it was possible to beautify the city in one short week, cart away the eyesore that is street families, paint the roads, plant and water grass in record time and fix security lights in a flash?

And oh, who would have thought the authorities in Nairobi actually noticed the gaping potholes, which have now been masked and in their place, tarmac as black as the ace of spades now gives the façade of a great tropical city basking in endless sun?

And, if one may ask, were all these efforts part of the legendary African hospitality? You know, the boundless generosity that means every time you travel back to the land of your people, you cannot leave before a morsel of good old traditional food has gone down your gullet? And that where everyone will be all in their best clothes as they line up to receive one of their own upon whom lady luck has smiled and showered with power and money?

Well, if it is all good old African hospitality, someone may ask: Where was it when the same Barack Obama came visiting as senator for Illinois?

Okay, maybe back then he wasn’t who he is today - actually, so let it not bother you.

The frenzied preparations would have appeared comical, if they did not come with poignantly sobering revelations.

I watched Mombasa Road being reduced to two lanes to pave way for repairs. I’m sure the fat rats at the various city markets are either dead or on a sabbatical in Ruai and other satellite spots. And a certain street in town will be deserted tonight.

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It was all done so fast it reminded you of the Mayor’s quip in ‘The Government Inspector’: “Get the streets to sweep the brooms.”

There are many reasons, though, that I think the frenzied clean-up was well worth every drop of sweat and cent.

First, the symbolic value. For a country that has been portrayed for two years as a no-go zone due to terror attacks – never mind the thugs are increasingly from the countries issuing travel advisories – Obama’s visit will be a much-needed symbolic boost for our ailing tourism industry.

Still on symbolism, that the Global Entrepreneurship Summit takes place in the land of MPesa confirms this as the next frontier in innovation and growth.

It must also be said Obama’s visit will serve to enlighten those – and they are many – who think Africa is one endless jungle ravaged by war, disease and orgies of mindless violence. It removes the cobwebs in such minds and proves Nairobi can host just about anybody – including the Pope, whose visit, by the way, has all but been confirmed.

That said, one hopes some of us could style up, like the brigade parading their vacuity by lecturing the man from K’Ogelo on what to say and what not to.

And while Obama has the right to comment on governance, democracy and corruption, I almost split my nose with mirth when I heard some in our midst were itching to tell the US president some dark secrets about Kenya.

Come on folks, given the kind of intelligence network the man has at his disposal, he probably understands our governance challenges better than all of our cantankerous politicians put together. But in the name of freedom, go on Johnnies, tell it all to big brother!

But like I said, the fact that we do not reveal these top secrets to one another in our national conversations is very sad indeed.

For while Obama sits on the highest governance seat on earth, the interests he serves, even when doing business with the country of his father, are as American as apple pie.

How I wish the Jubilee government, the City county and the opposition could spend the remaining few months to 2017 working as hard as they have been doing this week in preparation for Obama.

For no, it was not Barack’s visit that goaded them into action. Obama just acted as the lightning rod that made us get in touch with our long-suppressed conscience.

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