Why Obama visit is godsend for Nairobi city

A section of Uhuru Highway that is undergoing beautification. (Photo:Jeniffer wachie/Standard)

The expected visit of US President Barack Obama could turn out to be a blessing for long-suffering Nairobi residents.

The Nairobi county government is spending in excess of Sh50 million to spruce up the city ahead of Obama's first visit to the country since he came into office.

Hitherto choked drainage systems are suddenly flowing and long-neglected sidewalks and roads are being paved and beautified ahead of the visit.

A taxi driver near the Kenyatta International Convention Centre could not hide his cynicism at the sudden spur of activity. "It is just like when your mother suddenly pulls out the best cutlery when guests visit. The cutlery disappears the moment the visitor leaves," said Mburu Njuguna as he marveled at a newly-paved road.

From Taifa Road, areas near the KICC and along Mombasa Road, scores of young men and women are sweating it out in the sun planting an assorted variety of flowers and trees ahead of the visit.

"The US President must find us tidy," said Benter Kavochi, one of the women planting flowers along Haile Selassie Avenue.

A man driving by could not resist craning his neck through the window and wondering if the flowers will grow before Obama comes.

"Will they grow before Obama arrives?" He jokingly asks Kavochi before driving away.

She just laughs and tells us that the manure which is being brought to the site in full loads will do the trick.

But she is not happy that the county government is only paying them Sh400 per day for beautifying the sidewalks. "This is not just normal work like what we have been doing before. Even Obama would not be happy if he is told we are only being paid Sh400 for welcoming him. We want to beautify our country but they have to pay us well," she says.

Parliament road

And for MPs, the road is now smooth all the way to Parliament. They can now drive down Parliament Road without their fuel guzzlers coming into contact with potholes.

The road in front of the august House has been re-carpeted, with the contractor paying special attention to the road considering the amount of time he has been at the site. Obama is expected to visit Parliament.


But Nairobi County insists that the current beautification programme is not about Obama's coming. County Executive for Environment Evans Ondieki said the money used for the beautification is part of the county government's Sh184 million programme towards the development of infrastructure within the city.

"This is not about Obama, it is about making Nairobi the city of the future. We will be hosting a cancer conference next week. We will also have the Pope coming in November, the World Health Organisation will also have a meeting here in December...Everybody wants to come to Nairobi. So, this is not just about Obama. We want Nairobians to be happy. We don't want visitors to go away while saying that Kenyans are untidy," insisted Ondieki.

But despite the flurry west of Tom Mboya Street, it is business as usual at the other side of town. This is the side that Obama might not venture into.

Chocking filth still litters the streets, with pedestrians, cars and hand-cart pushers competing for the little space between the sidewalk and the gaping potholes.

The only sign of activity east of Tom Mboya Street is at the Tom Mboya monument, which is undergoing reconstruction after reportedly being vandalised by a group of Gor Mahia soccer fans.

Although it is not clear if Obama will spare a minute to pass by the monument, a group of youths at the site are convinced the ongoing work is evidence that he will come to pay homage to the slain former freedom fighter.

"Why else would they be reconstructing the monument? He cannot fail to visit since it is Mboya who took his father to America," argued Michael MacOdingo, alluding to the famous Mboya airlifts in which hundreds of Kenyans students were taken to study in the United States in the 1960's. "We are only worried that Obama will come and find Mboya facing Ambassador Hotel, instead of the classy Hilton on his right," he added.

Obama is expected in the country on July 24 to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.