Welcome to Kenya President Obama, and Please Feel At Home [opinion]

Dear President Obama,

I would like to add my shangwe na vigelegele (it’s a Swahili phrase that roughly translated means loud cheering welcome with applause and ululations) to those of my fellow Kenyans who are excited about your visit.

Some of my countrymen affectionately refer to you as “Our Cousin”, and a few even continue to insist you are actually Kenyan, and if it weren’t for the fact that it is technically impossible, I am sure they would be happy to conduct a campaign for your third-term Presidency.

Then there are some of my former schoolmates who were at St Mary’s School at the same time as David and Mark (two of your father’s sons), who like to think had you grown up in Nairobi, you too might have gone to Saints. To be honest, I must admit that in some of my more fanciful moments I count myself among these. I can just see you in the debating club and taking part in the oratory section of the Kenya Music Festival (incidentally, as if you were not already aware Mark entered that as well as the piano-playing competition).

At Saints, you would have probably have become a senior school prefect and been one of the privileged few to wear that black tie decorated with the school emblem and the motto “Bonitas, Disciplina, Scientia” (Goodness Discipline and Knowledge). I guess that would have been one of the things you would have had in common with your host President Kenyatta.

Seriously though, Mr President, we welcome you to our country, and hope your stay will be a happy and fruitful one.

I am sure you will notice that Nairobi has continued to change since your last visit, nearly a decade ago, just before your successful bid for the Presidency of your great country.

Of course some of the changes were very sudden, and if you look closely at your surroundings you might even notice how very recent they are. In Kenya, as elsewhere around the world, we like to look our best for guests, so if in some homes that means laying out the best crockery and cutlery, in Nairobi it means we don our ‘Sunday Best’ and prettify our surroundings.

As much as I would have loved to have been there to welcome you, I had to change my original travel plans, which would have had me arrive shortly after you did. And on reflection I decided against getting caught up in the wake of the security lockdown and all the attendant chaos that will be visited on Nairobi as a result of your visit.

I will have to be satisfied with watching your visit from my home in Cape Town.

All the same I’m not writing to complain, and unlike some other Kenyans who may have come to your attention as you planned your trip and packed your suitcase, I am not writing to tell you what to say (or even what not to say) and where to go. That would be rude and unnecessary.

Having said that, I count myself among those who would greatly appreciate comments supportive of Gay Kenyans, even though it might make some of your hosts ever so slightly uncomfortable. Meanwhile if I were you, I’d avoid any suspicious groupings of middle-aged men with their backs turned to you. I have read there is a group of such people who have threatened to ‘moon’ you and worse.

But then again, that might be expected from a group of people who subscribe to a party with the term “Republican” in its name.

I am sure if you do see them, you will treat them with the contempt they deserve and your hosts will be suitably embarrassed on your behalf.

Once again I wish you a very happy visit and look forward to reading about how well it went.

All the best,

Mwangi G