Sprucing up city in order to impress Obama was an exercise in futility


Kenya’s leaders bent over backwards to impress Mr Barack Hussein Obama when the American President paid an official visit to the capital city of the country in which his father was born.

For instance, we literally bundled all beggars and piece-goods merchants out of the streets of the “City in the Sun”.

Where did we take them? Ask me another. For I know only two things.

The one is that Nairobi is unthinkable without mendicants and informal open-air commerce.

The other is that the President of the world’s technological superpower is already extraordinarily well informed about this unflattering fact concerning his father’s native country.

For one thing only, President Obama has a permanent mission in our capital.

And the US leader receives periodic — perhaps daily — briefing from his embassy on the most salient occurrences, including the ugliest ones, in our country’s seat of government.


Before he came, the US President already knew much about Nairobi’s normal occurrences.

He knew that our rubbish bins overflow from weeks of failure in collection.

Our streets are full to the brim with unlicensed merchants.

Urban vehicles do not heed the street lights and their noise pollution is second only to Cairo’s.

The news pages of our newspapers are monopolised by mindless political duelling.

I repeat that, long before he came to Kenya last week, Barack Obama already knew all this and a thousand other unflattering things about Nairobi.

Therefore, only if you think he is a fool can you assume that, every time he comes, he will be very impressed by your efforts to apply a coat of white paint on all your urban soot and cobweb.

Yours, then, was an exercise in futility. Some Kenyans might have asked you some uncomfortable questions.

If Kenyans are your primary responsibility as a government and if, all the time, Nairobi needs to be clean and well-supplied with goods and services, why do you have to wait for a foreign visitor to spruce up Nairobi? Why aren’t the people your inspiration?

The people do not demand it as a favour. They demand it because that was why they elected the two governments: national and urban.

To deliver every necessary merchandise and service was what the elected national and city officials promised when they were campaigning for their present offices.


Moreover, the people demand adequate goods and services because they are being made to pay some of the world’s heaviest taxes allegedly to enable both governments to deliver just such goods and services to the popular mass.

The mass needs clean streets, not just because a certain Barack Obama is coming, but permanently for their own health and comfort.

Yet “aid” is the compelling reason that the Third World’s political class would lavish on a visiting First World leader the little money earned through their overworked peasants and urban labourers rather than reinvesting the money on the peasants and labourers to enable them to improve the quality and quantity of those products for themselves.

First World “aid” is far more attractive to our ruling classes.

It is the reason we would rather lavishly entertain the nabobs visiting us from the north-west.

Put another way, “aid” is the source from which the Third World’s ruling classes develop the swollen tummies which a Third World cynic one characterised as the “patriotic fronts”.

That is why Kenya’s authorities had no qualm about announcing that, now that Barack Obama had left Kenya, beggars and hawkers could return to the streets of Nairobi.

The authorities seemed to have no idea that, whenever the streets of a country’s capital city are full of beggars, it expresses only the authorities’ own failure in governance.

Thus the US President’s father would turn in his grave if you told him that, for his own son’s sake, official Kenya had just sunk our country into deeper poverty with no caveat.