It was a humbling experience for some top political leaders and senior government officials, when the Kenya-American President, as Barack Obama proudly proclaimed himself, toured his fatherâ€™s homeland.
Playing the good host â€” a fact that Obama repeatedly appreciated â€” President Uhuru Kenyatta momentarily took the backseat as US marines and officials took charge of events during the three-day visit. Or probably Kenya was just adhering to dictates of international protocol during the visit of a President of the worldâ€™s most powerful nation.
But probably blind to this arrangement, some leaders arrived at Nairobiâ€™s Kasarani Gymnasium last Sunday for Obamaâ€™s speech, without cards or prior invitation. Many more came in their convoys and attempted to drive to the venue only to be stopped midway and asked to walk up to the sports complex.
There were two gate entries to the venue: Gate 2 was reserved for President Obama and his host, President Kenyatta, and Gate 12, for all the other members.
Although on Kenyan land, the event was purely a US affair â€“ organised by US Embassy, with Obama as the sole key speaker. Unlike previous forums, President Kenyatta, too, sat through as an invited guest, with Obamaâ€™s sister Dr Auma Obama, introducing and inviting the US leader to the podium.
All guests were required to be in the packed gymnasium a half an hour before Obamaâ€™s arrival. Those who showed up late or without cards were respectfully but firmly turned away by mean-looking US marines.
Cabinet Secretaries Raychelle Omamo (Defence) and Eugene Wamalwa (Water and Irrigation), were among the senior officials in government, who showed up at Kasarani without cards. The two came in separately and briefly engaged the US security officials in an argument.
Even after informing his tormentors that he was a Cabinet Minister in the Kenyan government, Wamalwa was turned away. He neither carried an invitation card nor did his name feature on the list of invited audience. â€œWe are not disputing that you are a minister, sir, but where is your invitation card?â€ they insisted.
But Omamo was luckier. Her name was on the list of invited guests but she could not prove to the â€œstrangersâ€ that she was the Raychelle Omamo. â€œThis name (Raychelle Omamo) is on the list, but how do we know you are the one Maâ€™am? Where is the proof?â€ an officer asked her, as her aides fidgeted embarrassingly.
After a standoff that lasted nearly an hour, her card came through just in time for the Obama address. It was handed to her by an aide, raising questions whether she forgot it at home, in the office, official car or she â€“ being a Cabinet Secretary â€“ did not think it necessary to carry it along.
Equity Bank Chief Executive Officer James Mwangi had the misfortune of missing two crucial meetings. He skipped one at the United Nations offices in Gigiri and dashed to Kasarani for Obamaâ€™s address. He arrived on time â€“ 10 minutes before Obama walked into the arena â€“ but the officer manning the gates shouted at him: â€œI am sorry you are late, sir!â€.
Kenyan senior security officers, who served alongside the Americans, were particularly amused at the humbling experience of the local VIPs. â€œFor once, and backed by the US soldiers, we enjoyed real authority of telling off these guys where necessary and standing firm about it without intimidation from â€˜aboveâ€™,â€ one of the officers who manned traffic along Thika Road near Safari Park told The Standard On Sunday.
Perhaps the most discomforting experience for the VIPs was seeing them walk long distances and queuing for hours to Kasarani. Also invited were university and high school students, operatives of non-governmental organisations and members of youth and women groups.
These form the group so commonly referred to as â€œordinary citizensâ€. Ordinarily, in banking halls or anywhere else where Kenyans queue for service, the VIPs are accorded preferential treatment. But this was not the case as impatient VIPs were seen queuing behind a group of students in some instances, with no option of jumping the queue.