NAIROBI, Jul 24: US president’s visit to land of his father has sparked Obama-mania, but critics question decision to meet Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopia’s authoritarian regime.
Everyone thought Francis Oduor was dead. In fact the Kenyan international footballer had fled into the bush, walked four miles and gone into hiding after his house was torched. When he resurfaced, people were shocked and ashamed. “I was like the walking dead,” he said. “Everyone recoiled at the sight of me.”
Like many survivors of the post-election violence in 2007-8 that claimed at least 1,100 lives here, Oduor feels that justice has not been done because no senior politician has been held to account. He therefore refuses to join in the state-sponsored euphoria around Barack Obama’s “homecoming” to Kenya, which begins on Friday night when Air Force One lands in east Africa’s biggest economy.
It will be Obama’s first visit to the land of his father as US president and a far cry from a 1988 trip when his luggage got lost. He will be greeted by the stars and stripes flying all over the capital, Nairobi, and giant billboards and paintings bearing his face with slogans such as “Welcome home”. Last-minute beautification projects include the painting of street kerbs and planting of flowers and grass, while 10,000 police officers will protect the honoured guest.
Yet beneath the shiny surface lies a political minefield. Obama, ostensibly here to address the Global Entrepreneurship summit, will also meet some of Africa’s most divisive politicians in both Kenya and neighbouring Ethiopia. Human rights organisations are lining up to demand that, along with championing security alliances and economic development, he should raise hard questions about democracy and civil liberties.
Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was, at the time of his election in March 2013, facing trial at the international criminal court for his alleged role in the 2007-8 killings. The case has since been withdrawn owing to lack of evidence after prosecutors accused the Kenyan government of harassing and intimidating potential witnesses. Kenyatta’s deputy, William Ruto, is still awaiting trial at The Hague.