As Obama heads to Kenya, he fulfills desire to visit the land of his father as U.S President
By Dr. DUNCAN OMANGA
There is a palpable yet understandable excitement in the country. The U.S president, the world’s most powerful man, will be landing in Kenya in just a few days.
The coming of the U.S president is rightly treated with the attention it deserves, principally because this is the first time a sitting U.S president is visiting the country.
Secondly, it marks a long-held but carefully concealed desire of the U.S president to visit the land of his father while still in office.
Conservative and often virulent politics in the U.S, coupled with complications largely associated with the ICC cases made it virtually impossible for the U.S president to even contemplate a visit in his first term.
Incidentally, the visit comes when Kenya is seized with serious social, economic, and structural challenges.
There is an unconscious, sometimes embarrassing, attempt by opinion formers and ordinary citizens to see this visit as an opportunity to solve some of our protracted problems.
If the visit is not seen in the right perspective, the entire event will likely end up a crushing anti-climax to many Kenyans.
Kenyans must look at the visit more for its indirect, rather than direct, effects. Hosting the US president is akin to hosting the World Cup.
You invest vast resources for a transient event. The indirect effects come largely from using those few days in the spotlight to showcase the country in ways that would normally not be possible.
Thus, tourism stakeholders and hoteliers who suggest that Mr Obama should withdraw travel advisories are in for some disappointment.
It is not the job of the president to issue or withdraw travel advisories. The best he could do for our tourism industry has already been done by the planned visit. It is now up to industry players to seize the chance and market the country.
Secondly, the US president should not be pressured to lift travel advisories based simply on the fact that his father was Kenyan; rather it should be calibrated purely on how our security has improved.
Similarly, the thinking that the US President is coming with a bag of “goodies” to “save” Kenya is one that should be dropped like a hot rock.
This discourse of an imagined messianic figure that will come from without and help solve most of our problems is totally deceptive.
Our problems are not few. We struggle with corruption, disease, and poverty. There is little that a US president can do to help us overcome these challenges if the solutions are not from us.
Those politicians and civil society groups asking Mr Obama to pile more pressure on the Jubilee administration to fight corruption and enhance “human rights” might produce good sound bites for prime time news, but unless the pressure and agitation comes from the Kenyan citizens themselves, there is little that the most powerful man on earth can do.
Indeed, the visit by Mr Obama is not altruistic; rather, it is partly embedded in US interests and mostly the personal desire of the president himself to visit the land of his father’s birth while still in office. This is a tradition most US presidents have undertaken, visiting countries from which they clearly trace their ancestry.
For President Uhuru Kenyatta and his security team, the visit should be an opportunity to hear from Mr Obama how to think of security more strategically.
The US government, under President Obama, tactfully withdrew its troops from the mess that Iraq had become following the military misadventures by his predecessor. This has reduced homegrown terrorism in the US.
We can use this template to carefully interrogate our role in Somalia. In other words, a clear plan of bringing back our troops from Somalia is central in building a more secure Kenya in future than merely asking for withdrawal of advisories.
Still, other demands appear sensible. The clamour for more equity insofar as trade is concerned needs to be loudly and clearly articulated.
More important, there is a need to seek more latitude in having Kenyan produced goods access the US market affirmatively. However, at the end of the day, Kenyans will still have to save themselves.
Dr. Omanga is the head of the Publishing and Media Studies Department at Moi University’s School of Information Sciences in Kenya. email@example.com
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