Asante Sana Mr Obama
To give a title to this piece was difficult because so much happened over the weekend. We all obeyed traffic rules (for a change), watched local television, tweeted, exchanged views about the United States President’s visit and well almost had a full weekend off.
Not long ago when his visit was announced there was much speculation over his security detail, hotel stay, what will he do, why and who will get to see him? It was nice to know that at least the GES (Global Entrepreneurship Summit) didn’t get swallowed by his hype. The agenda remained work, as Mr Obama’s sister Auma Obama said as she introduced him at the Sunday Kasarani Stadium address, “he is my brother and he is your son, he is also her to work”.
The precisely synchronized trip brought out key issues for Kenya and where US will make a significant contribution. According to the GES fact sheet, nearly $1 billion will be used for various projects focusing on youth, women, small and medium enterprises with Equity Bank Group, Goldman Sachs, USAID and more. The President has also asked the private sector so step in and through their participation many more entrepreneurs will receive training, mentorships and finance. The world’s most powerful country and most admired by Kenyans is really showing how work can be done. Our past in both public and private sectors has been about writing out lavish plans, setting up training programmes and spending huge budgets on “getaways” but hardly getting any productive work done or having it impact the entrepreneur but leaving it up to the big corporations especially multi-nationals to make the change. Mr Obama has shown that when leaders are serious about getting work done and set an example, changes can be made. There was such pride in seeing our President Mr Uhuru Kenyatta also participate shoulder-to-shoulder in all the events and talking about what he and his Government are committed to. His determination to make the change should bear fruit.
In the Saturday address at the State House, one of the most historic ones because Kenya hosted first time ever a US President in office and had an almost open dialogue about nearly all matters necessary. Yes, there was only one disagreement about Gay rights and I think that our Head of State handled it very well. Most human rights activists might argue that ignoring gay rights is a denial of human rights, but Kenya is at such a cross road that our infrastructure, corruption, trade and business hold priority. President Obama did his duty to bring up the point right to the Head of State, which maybe even the Gay Rights Activists may not have been able to do for time to come. The other very important point he brought out was on corruption, he mentioned that while individuals are being caught, prosecutions must be done. Until and unless the citizens of the country don’t see and realize that bribes are a crime and don’t take you anywhere, it will not stop.
In the GES Summit at the UN Gigiri, there was a scenario posed that a young entrepreneur in Kenya faces bribes every step of the way that even getting started is frustrating. The panelists answered that it’s the numbers that will count, one man alone can’t knock doors and stop corrupt officials but more than one can make the bigger difference and bring it to the attention of the Government that this has to stop. They cited the example of India, where even Media and the entire public are reporting and giving the corrupt criminals their spotlight so that the Government is pressured to make a change.
President Obama’s trip remains significant and his partnership with Kenya will continue even after he ends his presidency. His charm, his fan following, his brutal talk reached out to millions of Kenyans. His Government may have given the millions of dollars for various projects but ultimately it is not what Mr Obama can do for Kenya now, but what Kenyans do for themselves.
If we are unhappy about things, we need to speak up and not bribe the City Council Officer or Police, or sit in our big offices and expect a miracle from the Government. If you are not happy about the taxes, human rights, security and whatever else, make the effort and reach out to make the first step to change. He said that we mustn’t accept that all the “current methods” of doing things are normal, they are not and you also need to change them. That’s what he has done for Kenya, shown us the horizon, it is up to us whether we want to get there on a beat up Beetle or Air Force One.