Reminiscent of the visit of former US President George W. Bush to Uganda, when Ugandan airspace and the roads on the ground were closed, as well as the former US President Clinton visit during his presidency, which was notably more relaxed, the arrival on Friday of current US President Obama to Kenya is already throwing long shadows over its neighbors.
Excitement over the long-expected visit, broadly referred to as “Obamania,” is now reaching fever pitch with the Kenyan media in a frenzy rarely seen before.
Going by reports from Nairobi, US security details have literally taken over Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and other locations where Obama is expected to make appearances during his stay from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. Enough will no doubt be said in coming days, but two areas are worth mentioning here in the broader context of topics normally covered.
Kenya’s tourism industry is keeping their combined fingers crossed, expecting and hoping for an incident-free visit of a man whom the media call their “homecoming son.” No doubt they will then promptly swarm the social and mainstream media when Obama has safely departed with the good news that POTUS had visited Kenya, the land of his late father. This impromptu campaign will likely play out to the tunes of Roger Whitaker’s song “My Land is Kenya,” which will probably rise into the Kenyan top ten again as after all, Obama does have Kenyan blood in him, too. Therefore, and there is, of course, logic in that argument, potential visitors will be told that it is safe for everyone else to follow suit, because if POTUS can visit Kenya, so can they, no?
Notably those tourists who have defied the crushing anti-travel advisories over the past two years, enjoyed their safaris and beach vacations and also returned home safely, and were able to tell their tales over and above their postings on social media accounts, something this correspondent has stressed time and again – that Kenya is fundamentally safe for tourists to visit and offers some exceptional value for money at the beaches and on safari.
Pope Francis’ expected arrival in November is a second such highlight this year, and tourism marketers will no doubt want to latch on to that visit, too, and make the most hay of it they can.
Such high-profile visits, however, also have some downsides, mainly as a result of the wide security cordons spread around venues, which will result in road closures on the ground. Air transport will also be affected, as was the case when George W. Bush came to Uganda and all arrivals and departures of flights were canceled or suffered long delays, leaving the affected passengers less than amused and no doubt uttering more than a few curses about their bad luck to be mixed up in the visit of an American president.
The NOTAM, aka Notice for Airmen – there is no gender equality in this jargon yet – copied above shows the times when both Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and also Wilson Airport will be closed for air traffic on Friday and on Sunday, and passengers who need to fly into Nairobi’s two main airports on domestic, regional, and international services are herewith forewarned to stay in touch with their respective airlines about anticipated delays and possible rescheduling or even diversions of their flights. It should be noted that the times shown in the NOTAM are the minimum times and that for operational reasons airspace and airport closures can take longer with subsequent added impact on arriving and departing flights.
As mentioned before, this has led to a mini exodus of Nairobeans not willing to put up with such inconveniences who have booked a weekend stay at either a safari lodge, an upcountry hotel, or a beach resort, leaving while they still can without the POTUS visit wrecking their itinerary, and returning to the city after he and his entourage have left and all things have returned to normal, Nairobi’s regular traffic jams of course included.
For all concerned though, be it Nairobeans getting out of Dodge or POTUS and his entourage getting into Dodge, enjoy Magical Kenya.