On Friday 24 July 2015, on a chilly evening in Nairobi at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. A sense of expectation and excitement hung ripe in the air. An entire country stood in wait as it counted the seconds to the arrival of a very special guest. It felt like the return of a long lost son of the soil, finally coming back to his ancestral home. The clock struck 8pm and there it was, Air Force One, with its familiar blue and white colors. As it lined up to the already set red carpet, there was a buzz of activity on the ground as secret service agents as well as delegations from the Kenyan government prepared themselves for the moment when finally, US President Barack Obama stepped on Kenyan ground for the first time in nearly 9 years.
Millions of eyes were fixed on television screens across Kenya as they watched the warm embraces, first between President Obama and his host Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. However the most touching moment of the arrival came when President Obama was greeted by his sister Auma, the long hug and kiss on the cheek indicating that the most powerful man in the world had kept his links with Kenya as strong as ever. He would later in the night have dinner with members of his Kenyan family, with pictures of him catching up with his sister and his grandmother, Sarah Obama making rounds in the Kenyan media.
The US President’s visit had caught the imagination of people in Kenya for months prior to his arrival. He was scheduled to co-host the 6th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), which was held for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was seen as an opportunity for both entrepreneurs and investors from around the globe to network, share and learn from each other. With the world becoming increasingly globalized, business is also being run on a global scale. With this in mind, having the world’s highest regarded business leaders present in Kenya would be a welcome boost especially for entrepreneurs in Africa. It also served as the perfect platform to showcase Kenya’s natural beauty and wildlife for all visitors to visit and see.
It was not until the next day that the GES was officially opened. It started with both co-hosts of the summit addressing a group of entrepreneurs and business leaders at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi. President Kenyatta opened proceedings, emphasizing on Kenya’s quality as a business and investment hub in Africa. He also described Kenya as a ‘hotbed of vibrant culture,’ to earlier descriptions of the country by the international media as a ‘hotbed of terror.’ Next up was President Obama, who made his first public address, starting off with a greeting in the local Sheng language, which drew out rapturous cheers from the audience. He expressed his pride in being the first US President to visit Kenya. He also took notice of Africa’s growing promise in the global economy with high speed networks and innovations such as mobile money transfer services which drive growth. With these remarks, the GES officially begun, with a variety of forums as well as peer to peer discussions taking center stage.
Next up for President Obama was a visit to the 1998 US Embassy Bombing Memorial Park, where he laid a wreath and paid tribute to the victims and survivors of one of the most tragic events in Kenyan history. He would later go to State House where he would hold bilateral talks with President Kenyatta, sealing important deals for both their countries. A press conference between the two presidents and the world’s press would follow. A night of fun and entertainment took place as a state dinner was hosted by President Kenyatta. This served as a chance for both presidents to showcase their lighter side as well as their dance moves, grooving along to the famous Kenyan jam ‘Sura Yako’ by Sauti Sol by performing the Lipala dance. The video of the dance would go viral to the amusement of the public.
The final day of President Obama’s visit was busy as an address to the Kenyan public was on the cards. Kenyans from all walks of life-politicians, businessmen, students and the press filled a packed indoor arena as they listened to a speech from the country’s chief guest for the weekend. The US President gave an outstanding address which filled the country with hope and enthusiasm for the future. He started off by highlighting nostalgic memories of his first visit to Kenya nearly thirty years ago. He noted how he was picked up by his sister Auma from the airport in a beaten up Volkswagen Beetle which would break down at every instance. He also talked briefly about the struggles of his father and grandfather in their pursuit for a better life. He praised Kenya for its progress as a leading economy in the East African region but also indicated challenges which the country should strive to conquer, including corruption and negative ethnicity. His last commitment of the visit would be a meeting with Kenya’s Civil Society members.
At around 4:30pm on Sunday July 26, President Obama bid farewell to Kenya. In the earlier press conference he had hinted that he would plan to visit Kenya again after his term as president ends. His visit was an indicator of a couple of things; first that Kenya and indeed Africa has come of age. The time has come for Africa to contribute in a big way to the global ‘ecosystem.’It is up to Africans to come up with solutions to their own challenges because the continent has a massive capacity; not only in terms of natural resources but also in terms of a vibrant and young population which can drive growth and prosperity. The visit also highlighted the fact that the world is looking at Africa. The mantra of ‘Africa Rising’ is resonating more especially among the world’s leading economies which look to invest in Africa. However despite all this, Africans should take part in engagements which will be of the greatest benefit to the continent. So this is a call to action to all Africans to take the initiative and drive Africa’s agenda forward so that we have a better continent not only for ourselves, but for future generations.
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