George Kebaso and Wangui Githugo
No Beast, no hawk-eyed and intimidating security agents swarming the runway, no ecstatic crowds lining up Mombasa Road all the way to State House from the airport.
That was the muted reception former United States President Barack Obama received yesterday upon return to the land of his father in stark contrast to what the world witnessed when he last visited in 2015, was America’s 44th president.
Obama made history then as the first sitting US president to visit Kenya in a spectacle arrival aboard Air Force One to be received by President Uhuru Kenyatta. He had previously visited as a young man in (1987) and later as a US senator (2006).
Yesterday, the highest ranking government official at the airport to receive him was Foreign Affairs Cabinet secretary Monica Juma. His sister Dr Auma Obama was also the only constant feature in the two contrasting occasions.
The former President of The United States (Potus) was accompanied by sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, and Obama Foundation staff members.
Also in the welcoming party were US ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec, Gina Din Group executive chairperson Gina Din Kariuki, managing director Lorna Irungu – Macharia and Kenya Airports Authority Security Services general manager Brig Gen (Rtd) George Kabugi.
As he stepped down from Tanzania a board a private jet, not even the media were allowed a click at the 1pm event. And unlike the lock down witnessed both on the Kenyan airspace and major roads at the city centre in 2015, his departure from the airport was as quiet as his arrival, as he headed to State House for a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta and later with Opposition leader Raila Odinga at the Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi.
A brief statement from State House said President Uhuru thanked Obama for keeping his promise to visit the country after his service as US President having last visited Kenya in 2015.
The President also congratulated Obama for establishing the Obama Foundation, which seeks to empower the youth to become agents of change that the African continent needs.
“The two leaders agreed that the youth in Africa could become the continent’s most valuable asset if their energy and creativity are effectively harnessed,” said the statement. And following the meeting with Raila, the latter’s spokesman Dennis Onyango said the talks focused on the Building Bridges Initiative, youth empowerment and education and Kenya’s efforts to bring peace to South Sudan.
“During the talks, Obama expressed support for the Building Bridges Initiative and the war on corruption.
The former US President called for greater induction of the youth into the initiative as a way of ensuring its deepening in to the future,” the statement said, adding that Obama pledged to initiate a number of programmes to empower Kenya’s youth through his Barack Obama Foundation.
Obama expressed full support for Kenya’s efforts to bring peace to South Sudan,” the statement said.
Last evening, it emerged that Obama had spent more than a week in neighbouring Tanzania where he was on holiday at Serengeti National Park. A tweet by Gerison Msigwa, the Director for Presidential Communication in Tanzania thanked Obama for an eight-day stay in the country. “Thank you former President of US Barack Obama for visiting and making a long stay of eight days to our beautiful country Tanzania. We hope you and your family enjoyed your stay in the endless plain of Serengeti. Welcome again and again @BarackObama @MichelleObama,”
During his stay at the Serengeti, pictures have also merged of the former First Lady Michelle Obama accompanying him. She was, however, not in the entourage that came to Kenya.
During his last visit, Obama had promised to bring along his nuclear family.
“I will be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president, because I can actually get outside of the hotel room or a conference centre,” he said then.