It is time for Kenya to take its rightful place

"Kenya is at a crossroads," said US President Barack Obama yesterday. "You can choose the path of progress, but it requires making some important choices."

In a much-anticipated public forum at the Kasarani Stadium Gymnasium, many had expected the first sitting US President to visit Kenya to pull no punches on what he thought about the country of his late father, Barack Obama senior. And he did not disappoint.

His 40-minute speech encapsulated the aspirations and the fears of many Kenyans. There is a lot to be proud of about Kenya. Yet despite its huge potential, there is a lot more to be disappointed about. So much is holding Kenya's progress and that is what he sought to confront.

Kenya is a land of incredible promise, boundless hope and great opportunity. "Kenya is carving out a special place in the community of nations," said President Obama. But then corruption, ethnicity and nepotism is holding back Kenya from attaining that promise faster than it ought to.

Government is unclean, slow-moving and remains ill at ease with being held accountable. Systemic corruption and lethargy that feeds off red-tape and bureaucracy is rampant. Obama said a staggering 250,000 jobs are lost each year because of the canker of corruption. No doubt, it is time to "change habits". Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, feel the rungs have been removed from the ladder of opportunity.

These ones need hope that the Government works for them too. Yet there is hope amidst the despair. President Obama represents the triumph of hope and resilience and of determination against all odds. He surmounted great challenges to be where he is.

Mr Obama's trip has brought with it a renewed sense of nationhood. The leaders need to go beyond paying lip service and actualise the dream that our forefathers had for Kenya at independence. For if Kenya has to move forward at the right speed, something has to give. The corruption cartels, the business-as-usual attitude in the public service, intolerance, negative ethnicity and the politics of attrition have no place in a renewed Kenya. These are the habits we have to get rid of for us to move forward.

It is up to the leaders to cultivate a sense of patriotism. On the other hand, Kenyans have to be exhorted to love their country; to put country before self. Unfortunately, the reality is that tribe still comes first before all else. We actually view someone from another tribe as anathema.

Yet there is no doubt that Kenya is on the right footing; our democracy is taking root; elections, though not perfect, are held regularly and save for 2007, the losers accept the election result gracefully and where there are disputes as happened in 2013, the contestants are free to seek court redress and despite initial teething problems, devolution is working and bringing great change in governance and development across the country.

Mr Obama's narrative shows what is probable. He has also told us what we have heard before; that for progress to happen faster, we must deepen democracy, uphold press freedom, strengthen the reform process, give women equal rights to participate in nation building and most importantly, enhance security.

That has been said before, the difference is that this is coming from Mr Obama. Yet despite that, it would be foolhardy to imagine that a silver-tongued man who traces his origins to Kenya and who rose to become the leader of the Free World could all by himself bring about the much-needed change in Kenya.

Ultimately, that responsibility rests with Kenyans. It was nice hosting President Obama. It would be much nicer if all citizens took to heart what he said.