Nairobi lockdown for Obama’s visit

NAIROBI, July 24

US President Barack Obama arrives in his ancestral homeland Kenya on Friday, with a massive security operation under way to protect him from al Qaeda-linked Somali militants.

Obama, making his first visit as President to his father’s birthplace, will address an entrepreneurship summit and hold talks on trade and investment, security and counter-terrorism, and democracy and human rights. Parts of the Kenyan capital Nairobi have been locked down and airspace will be closed during the president’s arrival and his departure on Sunday, when he travels up the Rift Valley to neighbouring Ethiopia, the seat of the African Union.

At least 10,000 police officers, roughly a quarter of the entire national force, have been deployed to the capital. Top of the list of security concerns is Somalia’s Shebab militants, who have staged a string of suicide attacks, massacres and bombings on Kenyan soil, including the bloody attack on the Westgate shopping mall in the heart of the capital nearly two years ago that left 67 dead.

Excitement has been building in Kenya for weeks, with the visit painted as a major boost for the country’s position as an African hub — something that has taken a battering in recent years due to Shebab attacks and political violence that landed Kenyan leaders in the International Criminal Court. “I need not tell you how eagerly we have all waited for the day, or how keen we all are to make it the most memorable of homecomings,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told reporters.

“It’s a vote of confidence for our city and our country,” Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero also told AFP.

The two main newspapers carried the same simple headline “Karibu Obama” — “Welcome Obama” in Swahili. The Standard newspaper promised a “spectacular reception for a son of the soil”. Kenyatta, writing in the Daily Nation, said that “many are the ties, not just of friendship, but also of family” between Obama and Kenya.

Obama is due to address an international business summit in Nairobi on Saturday, an event the US embassy warned could be “a target for terrorists”. “The American president is a high-value target so an attack, or even an attempt, would raise the profile of Shebab,” warned Richard Tutah, a Nairobi-based security and terrorism expert.