Barack Obama: I’ll raise questions on corruption, democracy during visit to Kenya
By Cyrus Ombati
| July 17th 2015
NAIROBI: Asked by a journalist about his agenda for Kenya during his visit next weekend, US President Barack Obama said it was two-fold: “...(to) encourage democracy and the reduction of corruption inside that country.”
He then once again captured the price Kenya has paid for rampant corruption, as outlined in his books and speeches, saying the vice has sometimes, “held back this incredibly gifted and blessed country.”
With this message days to his arrival in Kenya, and with speculation rife on what will be and what will not be in his speech, Obama also gave an indication of what he feels the burden of presidency has taken away from him on visiting the land of his father: “With respect to the visit to Kenya, it’s obviously something I am looking forward to. I’ll be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as President because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference centre.”
“And just the logistics of visiting a place are always tough as President, but it’s obviously symbolically important,” he added. He also said the visit will present an opportunity to his government’s resolve to support the region on ‘important issues.’
On what he expects the tour will achieve, he said: “And my hope is that we can deliver a message that the US is a strong partner not just for Kenya, but for Sub-Saharan Africa generally; build on the progress been made around issues of health and education; focus on counter-terrorism issues that are important in East Africa because of Al Shabaab and some of the tragedies that have happened inside Kenya,” said Obama.
The US government said in May it would give Kenya Sh9.6 billion in the fight against Al Shabaab as well as help in intelligence gathering and sharing. During the White House press conference, Obama described Kenya as a blessed country and highly gifted but one suffering from corruption.
Obama was for the first time speaking of his impending visit to Kenya and specifically responding to a question from April Ryan, a White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks. The press conference took place at the White House on Wednesday night.
“What does it mean to travel to Kenya, your father’s homeland, in the next couple of weeks as President to the United States?” was the question Ryan asked, triggering Obama’s response. He said the visit was highly symbolical to him.
Meanwhile, indications that President Obama may visit K’Ogelo in Siaya County may have been made clear after a team of medical experts landed in Kisumu Airport on Wednesday. The surgeons arrived aboard two planes - a C-130 Hercules carrying equipment and the other the personnel.
Sources said they have set up a full-fledged surgery clinic there. Another similar clinic with 20-bed capacity has been opened at Terminal Two of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
“People should expect surprises when the US President arrives in a week’s time. He will land in Kisumu as well,” said the informed source who asked not to be named.
The clinics are supposed to attend to the President, his family or his team in case of any medical emergency.
Kenya and US are yet to officially announce Obama will visit K’Ogelo but all indications are that the place of his father’s birth may be in the White House Diary.
Already, roads are being repaired or constructed to the ancestral home of Obama in readiness for the visit, with security being boosted around the area.
Major hotels in Kisumu have been booked, with the local leadership asked to channel resources towards the preparations for receiving him.
President Obama is expected in Kenya on July 24 for three days to attend sixth annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi. Ahead of his arrival, two marine choppers, 56 assorted vehicles and other hardware have already been shipped in.
The personnel already in the country have been conducting recce missions and road drills.
Nairobi will suffer a lock-down for three days when he arrives to attend the summit, with airspace closed within his arrival and access to roads and venues he will be using curtailed.
There is already excitement among Kenyans ahead of the visit that is expected to boost Kenya’s economy.
President Obama is expected to attend the White House initiative, which gathers entrepreneurs and investors from around the world and is aimed at showcasing innovative projects and spurring economic opportunity.
The visit is expected to command considerable global attention because of its huge symbolic importance. More than 3,000 people are expected at the meeting.
Already, contingents of police officers are being mobilised and coached on the visit. More than 10,000 security personnel will cover the occasion. Some officers who were on leave have been recalled and more personnel brought in from Kenya prisons.
The event will take place at the Nairobi UN Headquarters in Gigiri and already the beautification of the route he will use to the venue is ongoing. The US State Department has issued a travel alert ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit. But Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery downplayed the travel alert saying it was normal for any country to warn its citizens to be careful whenever they are for their safety.
Already, contingents of American security officials have started to arrive in Nairobi ahead of the event.
Obama will land in Nairobi on Air Force one, plus a massive entourage and a motorcade of armour-plated vehicles.
These include the president’s bulletproof limousine known as The Beast, a military ambulance and communication vans packed with state-of-the-art devices.
Around 300 heavily armed Secret Service agents, dozens of advisers and teams of sniffer dogs are part of his security outlay.
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