Once President Barack Obama’s Air Force One taxied to a halt on the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) runway, a few awkward moments were noticeable.
Obama’s security detail had to instruct that the stairway be aligned properly with the plane’s door. After signing the visitor’s book on a desk placed on the tarmac, there seemed to be no one behind to pull the chair away from President Obama, forcing a Kenyan official to scramble to get it out of his way.
Then Obama almost entered the ‘wrong’ car while his sister, Auma Obama, struggled to fit the seat belt in the limousine. President Uhuru Kenyatta was left at the airport having to wait for his official vehicle.
These incidents highlighted the anxiety, excitement, awkwardness and missteps that characterised the first visit by an American president to Kenya. Words of Robert Burns’ poem In a Mouse that “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” rang true.
Although there have been months of preparations for Obama’s visit, these appeared to be the little oversights.
When Air Force One came to a halt, a group of people, probably journalists, were the first to get out using the rear exit of the giant plane. They were followed by two secret service agents who manually fixed the staircase to the hatch. Moments later, the US President emerged and quickly ran down the stairs in his characteristic manner.
This time around, the airport was unlike the one he encountered during his first visit to Kenya in 1988. Then, the US president recalls in his memoirs, the airport was “almost empty.” His luggage got lost, and the only thing that the few officials present were interested in was borrowing a cigarette from him.
When he arrived on Friday night, President Kenyatta, Chief of Defence Forces General Samson Mwathathe, several Cabinet secretaries, hundreds of reporters, multiple armoured limousines and thousands of security personnel were in wait.
Joan Wamaitha, an eight-year-old Class Two pupil, presented the US President with a bouquet of flowers. Obama then warmly hugged her, but President Kenyatta was blocking the view from photographers, forcing one of them to ask him to slightly move aside so the journalists could get a better shot.
The most emotive moment of the night came when Obama embraced his sister Dr Auma, who stood at the end of the queue smiling.
Auma had earlier tweeted: “My brother’s coming home and we are over the moon. Welcome little brother!”