People & Power: Nairobi Security Tight As Kenya Prepares For Obama


By Dana Sanchez 

President Barack Obama is expected to leave the U.S. Thursday for a visit to Nairobi, where security appears tight and Kenyans, resilient, with the reopening of the Westgate mall that was scene of terrorist attack nearly two years ago, according to reports in the WallStreetJournal and TheStar.

Obama is expected to fly into Kenya Friday, TheStar reported, although the report said U.S. State Department has given no details about arrival times and places.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Obama are scheduled to co-host the Sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit at the U.N. Gigiri complex, located seven kilometers from the city center and 16 kilometers from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

They’ll hold bilateral talks at State House, Nairobi, and address a joint press conference Saturday afternoon, TheStar reports.

Obama is expected to speak at Safaricom Stadium Kasarani Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed that a Sunday speech is penciled in for Obama at the stadium, said Dlamini Zuma, chairman of the African Union Commission, in a KTV video.

The exact time for the speech or who will be allowed into the 60,000-seat stadium is unclear, KTV reports.

Secret Service agents have also been observed at Kenyatta University, where Obama is expected to speak, but the date and time have not yet been made public, according to The Star.

Thousands are expected to attend the entrepreneurship summit, and the benefits for tourism and lodgings are clear, but the summit may present a logistical nightmare and test the country’s capacity to host global conferences, KTV reports.

The U.S. State Department is discouraging U.S. citizens from attending the entrepreneurship summit, issuing a travel alert saying it’s a likely terrorist target, WallStreetJournal reports.

Kenya is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to host the entrepreneurship summit, now in its sixth year. Previous hosts have included the U.S., Morocco, Turkey, UAE, and Malaysia.

Kenya depends on U.S. training and intelligence to help it counter the threat from Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants and homegrown extremists, WallStreetJournal reports.

Kenyan officials say they have made major security improvements since Westgate. Some Kenyan security experts say it’s not enough. They want Obama to push Kenyatta to take more action.

“Westgate gave us a grand moment to increase our national security and we did not seize the moment,” said Mwenda Mbijiwe, head of Nairobi-based Eye on Security Ltd.—a consulting firm for government and private clients, WallStreetJournal reports.

Kenyan officials say security forces are better coordinated, intelligence gathering has improved and there is new emphasis on policing at the community level. There’s an effort to undermine extremist messaging, said Mwenda Njoka, the spokesman for the interior ministry.

“Nobody tells you how many attacks have been thwarted,” he said, according to WallStreetJournal.

London-based Fitch Ratings Inc. last week downgraded Kenya’s credit outlook from “stable” to “negative.”

Part of the problem is that the Kenyan government refuses to accept there’s a real insurgency going on, said Andrew Franklin, a former U.S. Marine who runs a Nairobi-based security consultancy, Franklin Management.

“Nobody is interested in getting to grips with the situation,” Franklin said, according to WallStreetJournal.

But Kenyatta’s message that it’s time to move on appeared to resonate with Nairobi residents at the Westgate mall over the weekend. Stores gave away free samples and offered opening-day discounts in a festive atmosphere.

Said Ahmed, 52, and his wife, Saada, were among those visiting the newly reopened mall. Ahmed runs a private security company and said he was confident that beefed up security would keep attackers out.

Saada said she felt it was her duty to come back. “We are defeating them by coming here,” she said. “We have to move on.”


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