Kerry and Obama Visit Show New Global Confidence in Kenya


By Machel Waikenda, The Star (Opinion)

Date Published
“Choosing Kenya as the destination for GES underscores the fact that Africa, and Kenya in particular, has become a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship. Kenya is a world leader in mobile money systems such as M-Pesa, and a driver of innovation through creative spaces like iHub,” stated the White House when announcing President Obama’s visit to Kenya.

This week’s visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Kenya, and that of President Barack Obama in July are a critical moment for Kenya.

Most Nairobians may not be too enthusiastic about these visits due to the inconvenience of traffic jams that are witnessed, but every good thing has a cost.

Many have in the last couple of years pointed to a deteriorating relationship between Kenya and the US, but these visits point to better days.

This is a historic moment for Kenya as the world’s most powerful person comes not only to meet the country’s leadership, but to also participate at an entrepreneurship conference.

Kenya is no longer playing second fiddle to world economic leaders, being the third most developing economy globally. Kenya’s position as a regional leader in peace and stability is also clear with the Americans coming to town.

Reflecting on John Kerry’s visit, one sees opportunities for Kenya opening up from significant and different fronts. The famous selfie that Kerry took with a baby elephant at the Nairobi National Park on his arrival is more than just a photo.

It is a statement that Kenya is a great country with beautiful wildlife and a travel destination for any tourist. It is not just a photo, but a marketing tool that will most likely attract American tourists to Kenya, and turn the dwindling fortunes of our tourism. Tourism is a key economic earner for Kenya, and every step taken to safeguard it as well as encourage tourists to visit must be appreciated and welcomed.

Kerry used the opportunity at the Nairobi National Park to visit an elephant orphanage and pledges America’s support for Kenya’s anti-poaching efforts. This is a significant boost coming on the same day as former American President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea visit Samburu on a closely similar mission.

The Clinton Foundation funds the Save the Elephants project located in the Samburu Game Reserve, and which uses GPS technology to monitor the elephant’s movement. They monitor if the elephant is moving too fast, which could indicate they are being chased by a poacher, or if they have stopped moving which could indicate injury or death.

Another significant statement coming from Kerry’s visit is that Kenya is doing as much as it can do to deal with insecurity. It is, therefore, significant that Kerry pledged close to Sh10 billion towards Kenya’s war against terror. Terrorism continues to be a threat to Kenya and the entire global community, and therefore needs a concerted effort from all peace-loving humans.

Kerry’s move to make an unannounced visit to Somalia’s Capital Mogadishu from Nairobi is also significant in Kenya’s role in ensuring regional peace. It also underscored the fact that Kenya does have global support in ensuring that it’s northern neighbour is stable and peaceful.

This, and the money pledged to the UNHCR to deal with refugees also shows the world’s commitment to helping Kenya deal with the burden of hosting those who have fled their countries, especially Somalia.

It is not in doubt that Kenya and the entire global community would wish to see Somalia refugees go back to their country instead of enduring the suffering that comes with leaving in camps.

When Kerry met President Uhuru Kenyatta, trade between Kenya and the US was one of the issues on the table with the head of state highlighting the opportunities available for investments.

American businesspeople have been coming to Kenya to look for investment opportunities, and the Obama administration’s talks with key leaders is significant. When Obama comes in July, he will specifically be attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is being hosted in Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time.

It is a key opportunity to sell Kenya as a hub of entrepreneurs and innovation that continues to be recognised globally. More than 2,000 delegates from across the world are expected at the summit providing Kenya and Kenyans with unending opportunities.

This will be an opportunity to sell the country, not only as a business hub but also a peaceful and beautiful destination for tourists. It is also already clear that the issues that Kerry handled while in Nairobi will feature heavily when Obama and Uhuru hold their talks in Nairobi.

These trips are clearly an indication that Kenya has come of age as a regional and global leader in security and trade. This we must also jealously safeguard in order to ensure that we all take up the benefits that come with it.