Welcome home, Son
There <g data-gr-id="96">is</g> palpable excitement and anxiety in Nairobi ahead of American president’s visit to Kenya this Friday, July 24, 2015. For long Kenyans had given up on their most famous son, American president Barack Obama to ever visit Kenya as a sitting president. America and indeed the West were seen to be opposed to a Kenyatta presidency owing to the crimes against humanity at the International Criminal (ICC) charge that Uhuru was facing during the presidential campaigns. The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson had warned Kenyans that choices have consequences.
But given the intricate circumstances that precipitated the 2007 post-election violence that Kenyatta was charged with at the ICC, Kenyans voted in defiance of the Western expectations. And true to form, in his first two officials outside Africa President Uhuru visited China and Russia and delivered an open attack on the West from the Organisation of African Unity headquarters in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia where he termed the court as a witch-hunting ground for African politicians. The claim resonated well with Africans. At least the African political class. Kenya, a traditional ally of the West was seen to be drifting apart. Changes on the constitution to muzzle media freedom and attack on the civil society widely believed to have framed the president at the ICC were seen as a sign of Kenyan fully embracing China’s model of handling dissent.
But two handshakes between the two presidents, one at the funeral of Nelson Mandela and the other on a visit of African presidents to America, did confirm that there was still love between the two countries.
April this year when Obama called Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to condole with him over the terrorist attack that left 147 students of Garissa University in northeast Kenyan and promptly promised him that he will attend the Global Entrepreneurial Summit (2015) in Nairobi.
Since then, Kenyans have been upbeat about the visit of the most powerful man on earth with origins from the East African country. Obama’s father was Kenyan of the Luo tribe from Western Kenya who went to study in America on a Kennedy sponsored scholarship in 1959, before meeting and marrying Obama’s mother briefly. A union that brought forth the future president of the United States of America.
It is the third time Obama is visiting Kenya. Once on a personal discovery trip in 1988, once as a senator on course to be president in 2006 and now as a president. While he is set to headline the Global Entrepreneurial Summit 2015, to Kenyans, the visit is more of homecoming and less of an entrepreneurial forum. Kenyan media has primarily focused on the homecoming aspects of the trip, the beautification of the <g data-gr-id="86">city-including</g> an untimely planting of grass three days ahead of the summit that is expected to grow against all odds of the cold and dry July weather.
Ahead of the visit, an exclusive club of billionaires paid President Kenyatta a visit on July 11. Notably in the group was Sir Richard Branson, Jacqueline Novogratz (founder and CEO, Acumen), Chris Anderson (curator, TED Conference) <g data-gr-id="85">Dipender</g> Saluja (Capricorn Investments), Steve Jurvetson (Draper Fisher Jurvetson), Strive Masiyiwa (founder and chair, Econet Wireless), Jean Oelwang (CEO, Virgin Unite) and Zia Khan of the Rockefeller Foundation.
They will be part of the more than 1,500 investors and entrepreneurs attending the GES forum. The
forum, while global is expected to focus in Africa, the fastest growing continent. The areas of focus and growth in Africa are mostly in the energy sector, Information, Communication and Technology as well as agriculture. Africa presently holds more than half of the world’s arable land. Earlier in the week, Obama pined for the time he will the security bubble that constrains his movement.
“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,” Obama said in a presser ahead of his visit to Kenya. Together with president Uhuru, they will talk business and security. Kenya has borne the heaviest brunt of global terrorism with various attacks killing 500 people starting 1998. This has badly affected tourism in Kenya, and the Kenyan government expects Obama’s <g data-gr-id="92">visit as well as the Italian premier recent visit and the expected Pope’s visit</g> will boost the sector. President Uhuru told the media that both security and trade will be equally important.
“Both are equally important for there cannot be trade if there isn’t security,” he answered a BBC journalist.
The GES has previously held inMorocco, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. The summit is Obama’s brainchild and foreign policy tool to identify how to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and entrepreneurs in the US and Muslim communities around the world according to the US department of State. In Kenya the billion-dollar projects that investors are keen to invest in include the futuristic Africa’s Silicon Valley, Konza Technology City, Lamu Port and Southern Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) as well as more than 10,000 kilometres of tarmacking of roads. Electricity distribution and alternative means of electricity.
Kenyan industrialist most of whom are of Indian descent, notably Vimal Shah, one of the richest
Kenyan men recently told an awards’ forum “Our biggest challenge, which can also be seen as our biggest opportunity, is our demographics. There are at least one million people leaving school every year, all looking for jobs. On the other hand, the private sector is creating approximately 2,00,000 job opportunities every year leaving a total of eight hundred thousand people scrambling for government jobs.”
And the CEO of Kenya’s biggest and most profitable company Safaricom trailed by <g data-gr-id="79">Indian owned</g> Airtel, asked Kenyans to showcase their very best. “Local investors finally have an opportunity where the whole world is looking at them. It is now their time to prove to the world that they have a lot to offer,” said Bob Collymore, Safaricom’s CEO.
Indians in the forum might want to focus on the pharmaceutical and medical industry, a sector where Kenya falls short greatly, it takes three weeks to plan an emergency surgery at the country’s biggest referral hospital. The cost of treatment of lifestyle disease is shooting through the roof. And many Kenyans have been seeking treatment abroad, including India. Telcos, energy sector and ICT are also potentially profitable sectors that India must be keen not to be left behind, not just in Kenya, but Africa.
The author is a Kenyan journalist working with Standard Group. He has just enrolled for his Masters of Science in Journalism at Columbia University, New York
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