President Barack Obama is the first sitting United States President to visit Kenya and Ethiopia.
Kenyans have lined up the streets to greet Obama on his first official trip as U.S. President. The streets have been beautified for the state visit amid the largest security operation in Kenya’s history. The airport was closed and normal life disrupted as US marines, CIA, secret service agents and Kenyan soldiers patrolled areas of Nairobi.
President Uhuru Kenyatta greeted Obama on his arrival just after 8pm local time.
President Obama will not be visiting the ancestral village of K’Ogelo, and his father’s grave due to security concerns. According to Obama his visit as a Senator in 2006 was more meaningful than the one now, because he could mingle with the crowd. The president has a weekend of state dinners, public speeches and an international business summit to content with. He will be travelling to Ethiopia on Saturday.
The Guardian reports:
Kenya is treating the visit as a chance to shine, akin to hosting an Olympics or football World Cup, and is well aware how catastrophic another terrorist attack would be for its image. Three months ago Islamist militants murdered 148 people at a university in Garissa, while 67 people died in an attack on Nairobi’s Westage shopping mall less than two years ago.
Hundreds of US security personnel have arrived in Kenya in recent weeks and three hotels have been examined by the secret service, according to local media.
An Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, usually stationed at the US military base in Djibouti, flew over Nairobi this week alongside a White Hawk helicopter with presidential insignia, Agence France-Presse reported. Other military helicopters have been flown in reportedly from a US special forces facility at Kenya’s Manda Bay base, from which raids on al-Shabaab militants in Somalia are launched.
“Nairobi is seen as the second most important US embassy in the world after Moscow because of Somalia and its proximity to the Middle East,” an American source said. “There are so many missions going on that we don’t even hear about.”
Kenya’s civil aviation authority said national airspace would be closed for 50 minutes on arrival and 40 minutes on departure, inadvertently revealing the schedule of the president, who will travel without his family.
Obama will be chauffeured in his bombproof limousine, dubbed “the beast”. The $1.5m (£970,000) car has 20cm-thick steel plates, 13cm-thick bulletproof glass, Kevlar-reinforced tyres and a presidential blood bank in the boot.
Around 10,000 police officers – roughly a quarter of the national force – were being deployed in the capital and several major roads would be closed to all but emergency and security vehicles. The move prompted many people to stay at home and numerous banks and schools to shut early on Friday.
Evans Kidero, governor of Nairobi county, said: “Security is visible and invisible. It’s something we’ve been working on.”
Kidero’s belated attempt to beautify the city by planting grass has been mocked on social media, with Twitter users adopting the hashtag #KideroGrass. “In African culture when you’re receiving an important visitor, when your in-laws are coming, the house must be spruced,” he said.
Security concerns are thought to have played a part in the decision for Obama not to travel to his father’s grave and meet family members in the village of K’Ogelo. His father’s half-brother, Said Obama, 49, said: “I would have wished that he visit here but to me the most important fact is he’s coming to Kenya. He’s wearing several hats: he’s a family member and he’s the president of the US. I know if he doesn’t come to K’Ogelo, his spirit will be there with us.”
Obama talked recently about the heavy security restrictions compared with previous trips to his ancestral home, most recently as a senator in 2006. “I will 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 the hotel room or a conference centre,” he said.
The 53-year-old president, who once shot down conspiracy theories that he had actually been born in Kenya by publicly producing his birth certificate from Hawaii, will spend time with family members who have travelled to Nairobi, including his step-grandmother Sarah.
Securing the tour is uncharted territory since no sitting US president has previously visited Kenya or Ethiopia, where Obama flies tomorrow. Both are seen as vital allies in the African theatre of the “war on terror”.
At Nairobi’s state house, where the Kenyan and US flags currently fly alongside bunting, Kenyatta highlighted the threat.
“Our country has endured the attacks of depraved, ideological criminals,” he said. “We have fought them unrelentingly, and they know, as well as we do, that they will lose.” Kenyatta said there was “very close co-operation” with the US and “the fight against terror will be central” to his scheduled meeting with Obama, who is expected to visit the site of al-Qaida’s 1998 bombing of the US embassy.
But Joseph Nkaissery, the Kenyan interior minister, called on the US-based news channel CNN to apologise for describing east Africa as a “hotbed of terror” during its coverage of the visit. The hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN was trending worldwide as Kenyans condemned the broadcaster.
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