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What Obama’s second coming means to Kenya and its politics

By The Standard | Published Tue, June 5th 2018 at 00:00, Updated June 4th 2018 at 19:55 GMT +3

“Kenya is at a crossroads,” warned former US President Barack Obama in July 2015 as he winded up his visit to Kenya. “You can choose the path of progress, but it requires making some important choices.”

Mr Obama’s visit this month will come against the backdrop of new political realities in the country. Then, the Government and the Opposition were at logger heads. The March 9 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga has calmed the country.   

Most importantly now, President Kenyatta’s anti-corruption onslaught is gaining momentum. If only Mr Kenyatta had heeded Mr Obama’s call, the country would have accorded opportunity to some 750,000 youngsters locked out of a job by corruption since then.

Mr Obama reckoned that Kenyan leaders needed to go beyond paying lip service and actualise the dream that our forefathers had at independence. Indeed, corruption that thrives because bad governance, the business-as-usual and red tape in the public service, intolerance, negative ethnicity and the politics of attrition have conspired to deny Kenyans that dream.

By conservative estimates, each year, corruption denies a quarter million youth job opportunities. A 2016 survey by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission found that nearly 8 in 10 Kenyans thought that there was a very high level of corruption in the country.

Nevertheless, it is better late than never. Finally, the political class seems to have found the nerve to deal with corruption. From past experience, how far they will go is a matter of conjecture. In his first visit, security and corruption featured prominently. Those in the know acknowledge that he got tough with Mr Kenyatta in the wake of high-profile corruption (NYS) and the runaway insecurity that had claimed nearly 500 lives in less than a year.

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Mr Obama will not be coming with the same pomp and ceremony that characterized his last visit, or that he will speak tough to Mr Kenyatta. Nonetheless, the symbolism he carries with him will not be in vain.

Mr Obama’s narrative shows what is probable. For those who feel left behind, President Obama represents the triumph of hope and resilience against all odds. He surmounted great challenges to become the World’s most powerful man.

Indeed, Kenya is a land of incredible promise and great opportunity.

Like he did in his last visit, Mr Obama’s next trip ought to bring with it a renewed sense of nationhood and common purpose.


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