For once, Google was unlikely to face privacy complaints as the US Internet giant on Tuesday launched its Street View service in Kenya’s Samburu park, in a move conservationists said could help protect endangered elephants.
Special cameras have taken panoramic images of the reserve while driving down dusty tracks – and have also been fixed to a backpack to penetrate deep into the bush.
Some of Google’s previous Street View forays have brought complaints on privacy grounds.
But this time there were no demands to blur out faces – the main residents of the 165 square kilometre reserve are 900 elephants.
“We hope that by bringing Street View to Samburu, we will inspire people around the world to gain a deeper appreciation for elephants,” said Farzana Khubchandani of Google Kenya.
Slightly larger than a basketball, Google’s camera contains 15 individual fixed-focus lenses that simultaneously capture a 360 degree image roughly every three metres.
The Kenya project was launched in collaboration with conservation group Save the Elephants.
“It’s exciting to open a window onto Samburu, and to help us better protect its elephants,” said Save the Elephants chief Iain Douglas-Hamilton, speaking in Samburu, some 300 kilometres north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Kenya is struggling to stem poaching to protect its remaining elephant population – currently estimated at 30 000 – and just over a thousand rhinos.
With ivory raking in thousands of dollars a kilo in Asia, conservationists have warned that African elephants could be extinct in the wild within a generation.
“Giving people a virtual tour will bring Samburu to the world, and inspire the world to come to Samburu,” county governor Moses Lenolkulal said.
“The more people experience our culture, our people and the majestic elephants and other wildlife with which we co-exist, the more we are able to conserve and sustain the Samburu culture and its fragile ecosystem for generations to come.”
Kenya’s triumphant world championship athletes were given a rousing welcome home on Tuesday, with thousands of supporters and the east African nation’s leaders out in force for the homecoming.
Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was crammed with well-wishers as the team returned from Beijing, where they topped the medals table for the first time since the championships started in 1983.
Kenya garnered seven golds, six silvers and three bronze. There were also two rare individual title wins for Julius Yego in the men’s javelin and Nicholas Bett in the 400m hurdles.
“We are here to welcome our heroes who have stunned the world. You have made us proud,” said deputy president William Ruto, who led the line-up of Kenyan leaders welcoming the team. He later hosted the athletes for breakfast at his residence.
“Every village, every town and every corner of Kenya is celebrating our win and our success. We are not the biggest country in the world nor the strongest country but we are simply the best,” Ruto said.
“Kenya is not only a cradle of mankind but this is the only place where village girls and village boys, with one effort become champions.”
Kenya’s sports minister, Hassan Wario, said the team’s success was a good pointer towards next year’s Olympics, but said a lot of work still needed to be done to ensure there will be a well-rounded reprepresentation.
“This success augurs well for our preparations for Rio. The Olympics will be a different kind of ball game because the Olympics is slightly wider than the world championships,” he said.
“There is fencing and other events which we don’t do very well in. But we have shown we are number one in the world in terms of athletics and we can now improve in other things for the Olympics.”
US President Barack Obama arrives in Kenya on Friday for a weekend visit that will include talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
On the agenda are trade and investment, security and counter-terrorism, and democracy and human rights.
Here are the issues in detail:
Obama is officially in Kenya to address the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which Kenyatta has said will highlight the “progress and potential” of the country.
A string of deals are due to be signed on Friday, hours before Obama arrives, including on infrastructure and health investment. Boosting trade and investment will be a key focus of bilateral talks on Saturday, with the US now Kenya’s second biggest trading partner, after the European Union.
But Kenya’s reputation for deep and wide corruption is a concern for the US as it seeks to encourage further foreign investment, with Transparency International ranking Kenya 145 out of 175 on its corruption index.
Security and counter-terrorism will be “central” to talks with Obama, Kenyatta has said, with Nairobi “working in very close cooperation with American agencies” to combat the threat of violent extremism, especially from Shebab, a Somali-led Al-Qaeda affiliate.
Kenya and Islamic extremism have been entwined since 1998 when Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Nairobi.
Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia in 2011 to fight Shebab and later joined the African Union force, AMISOM, which is supporting Somalia’s internationally-backed government.
The Shebab have since stepped up their operations in Kenya, dealing a blow to plans for the troops to serve as a buffer and protect the long, porous border.
US drone strikes have targeted Shebab commanders including its former leader who was killed in September.
Democracy and civil society will also be discussed, with US officials saying that promotion of human rights and the rule of law will be key.
Kenya placed two high-profile Muslim rights groups on a list accused of supporting the terrorism, following the Shebab massacre in April of 148 people at Garissa university.
Obama is expected to meet with representatives of both the targeted Muslim organisations during his visit.
Obama’s backing of the US legalisation of same-sex marriage has angered some Kenyans. Obama’s support for gay rights, voiced in Senegal during his 2013 Africa tour, was not welcomed in much of Africa.
Kenyatta has said gay rights is a “non-issue… and it is definitely not on our agenda at all.” But for the US, gay rights are human rights. In an interview before leaving Washington on Thursday Obama told the BBC, “I am not a fan of discrimination and bullying of anybody on the basis of race, on the basis of religion, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.”
Kenya insists Obama will meet with Deputy President William Ruto who is on trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity relating to violence that swept Kenya after the 2007 election. Obama’s Kenya visit was long-delayed by Kenyatta’s own indictment by the ICC.
His case was suspended last year — in part, prosecutors say, because witnesses were bribed, intimidated or killed — clearing the way for Obama’s trip.
The issue of the lack of justice for the many victims of the 2007-08 violence is likely to be raised: no prosecutions have yet been brought against any of the suspected perpetrators.
From a Kenyan perspective, the last decade has pretty much been a wasted opportunity for the country’s relationship with the United States. The election of Barack Obama had raised hopes of a deeper and more meaningful engagement given his Kenyan roots. However, it coincided with two seminal events of Kenyan presidential ballot history. This was the violence that followed the disputed vote in 2008 and, five years later, the election of a crimes against humanity indictee to the highest office in the land.
Like Mwai Kibaki before him, President Uhuru Kenyatta came to office with a serious legitimacy deficit. His administration too is hobbled by corruption and has been accused of clamping down on civic freedoms. Coupled with Obama’s own troubles at home, as a loony fringe loudly questioned whether he was sufficiently American, these, inevitably created a regrettable distance between the two countries. The situation was perhaps best summed up in then Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson’s statement on the eve of the 2013 election: “choices have consequences”.
The UK also issued similar warnings of minimal contacts should Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, both of whom had been indicted by the International Criminal Court over the 2008 post-election violence, win the polls. Though these eventually turned out to be hollow, the perceptions of Western interference supercharged the duo’s campaign and helped get them elected.
Once in office, as part of their push to get their cases dropped, UhuRuto (as they became known) fanned anti-Western sentiment both at home and across the continent, painting the ICC, in the words of Uhuru’s address to the African Union, as a “toy of declining imperial powers”, and playing up the new engagement with China as a counterweight to the West.
Obama too was keen to keep his distance. Following the example of his immediate predecessors, he made a point of skipping Kenya on the two African tours of his first term. If anything, it appeared that Tanzania, which is getting rather used to US presidential visits having hosted Bill Clinton, George Bush and Obama, seemed to be the US’s new BFF in the region.
One would thus have imagined that relations with the US had settled into the back of the freezer for the foreseeable future. It was all so different from 2008 when Kenya had been the only country in the world to declare a public holiday in celebration of Obama’s election.
So what changed?
Terrorism for one. Kenya has been a target of attacks from the Somalia-based al-Shabab terror group ever since it invaded its neighbour in October 2011. But under the Uhuru administration, the numbers and severity of attacks have skyrocketed. The government’s incompetent response has generated the possibility of a spreading Islamist-inspired insurgency across Kenya’s north-eastern border regions. The threat to the largest economy in East and Central Africa and a bulwark for regional stability simply could not be ignored. Perhaps Obama is betting that by re-engaging with Uhuru, he can gently nudge him to take the necessary measures to confront it.
Secondly, it is important to note that the anti-Western rhetoric was always little more than a charade. The aim was to discredit the ICC, not alienate the West. It was not about taking Obama on, but getting Uhuru off. Under the surface, admiration for Obama ran deep. The two modelled their campaign and atmospherics on him, and across the country, as reflected in a 2014 Pew survey, Obama remains popular.
What are we to expect of the visit?
While the official reason Obama is coming is the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, there is little doubt that behind the scenes, it will be dominated by concerns over the worsening security and governance situation. Less than a week before Obama’s arrival, the reopening of the Westgate mall, scene of an al-Shabab massacre of at least 67 people two years ago, will be presented as a sign of resilience in the face of terrorism. But it also stands as a monument to the refusal by the authorities to learn lessons from previous attacks and to make much-needed improvements. Obama himself has said that counter-terrorism will be an important focus of the visit. And while he will probably be more restrained when criticising his hosts in public than he was during his visit as Senator in 2006, one would still expect some tough talking away from the cameras.
Nairobi is being spruced up in anticipation of the visit but that will be cold comfort for its long suffering residents. The homeless are being rounded up and will be kept out of sight and with much of the city expected to be in virtual lockdown, the usually terrible traffic will be nightmarish. In fact there is talk of an “Obamigration” as those who can flee the city in advance of Obama’s arrival.
The visit will also be a boon to the country’s cops. A new directive of dubious legality requires that everyone in Nairobi carry ID or risk arrest. There is no law in Kenya that requires the carrying of documents on pain of detention and this will only create an avenue for rich pickings for 15000 members of the famously corrupt National Police Service as citizens try to avoid the prospect of a weekend behind bars.
The real test of the visit will be what happens after he leaves. Will there be any lasting change? It will be particularly interesting to see whether Obama is able to persuade Kenyatta to take security seriously and to stop using it as an excuse to clamp down on civil rights. Movement on that front alone would make all the hassle worthwhile.
Patrick Gathara is a strategic communications consultant, writer, and award-winning political cartoonist. To read more of Patrick’s opinion pieces visit his blog, Gathara’s World or follow him on Twitter: @gathara
The silver-grey walls of the Godown Arts Centre, a sprawling converted car- repair warehouse that offers a home to many of Nairobi’s most creative minds, usually feature a rotating cast of murals celebrating sports stars, freedom fighters and screen sirens such as the Oscar-winning Kenyan actress, Lupita Nyong’o.
In recent weeks all those figures have been overshadowed by the likeness of one man. At the gate a whole section is taken up by a full-face painting of US President Barack Obama looking into the distance and wearing a wistful expression.
In the warrens of cubicles in the theatre, the star painting is a portrait of Obama, seated on a tree in a lime-green jungle, striking the pose of a Roman emperor with his feet dipping into a stream. “We are very excited about his visit,” says Evans Yegon (30), who painted the portrait. “We are just curious to see how things will be and we just can’t wait.”
Kenya is in the grip of Obama mania. For weeks, newspapers have led with numerous articles describing preparations for the trip at the end of the month and analysing its importance. Roads have been relaid, streetlights fixed, billboards erected and the highway between the airport and the central business district boasts a new garden — although social media users have been quick to note, witheringly, that the newly planted flowers are unlikely to have blossomed before Obama arrives.
It is hard to overstate Obama’s popularity in Kenya, the land where his father was born, and in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, one of the few places where his reputation has remained undimmed through the course of his presidency.
Yet his visit to Kenya will also highlight the changing dynamics of the relationship between the West and a continent that has grown more assertive with improving economic fortunes at a time when new powers, especially China, are making a big play for prominence in Africa.
At the airport, Obama will be received by Uhuru Kenyatta, whose presidential bid Washington semi-openly campaigned against because, at the time of the election in March 2013, he was facing indictment at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in post-election violence that rocked the country at the end of 2007. The case has since been withdrawn.
The election of Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, was seen as an embarrassment for Western envoys who had warned the electorate that “choices have consequences”. Their entry into office led to a deepening of Kenya’s relationship with China and strained ties with Western allies.
“This will be a very significant visit,” says Professor Winnie Mitullah of the University of Nairobi. “Relations with the West hit a low not witnessed for decades in recent years and it will be a chance, in effect, to reset the partnership and create a new narrative.”
Some analysts say the rise of China has seen United States administrations grow averse to criticising the governance and human rights records of governments in Africa. Campaigners complained that a summit of African heads of state in Washington last August focused on trade and security with little discussion of human rights, and many will be watching to see how Obama, whose strong words against official corruption in Kenya on his last visit as a senator in 2006 stirred a ruckus, will handle the issue.
Scott Gration, a former US ambassador to Kenya who grew up in East Africa and was an early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign, says Obama remains a champion of the good governance agenda but argues that US dealings with the continent have to reflect shifting dynamics.
“I believe we are witnessing a change in the international community’s engagement with Africa. President Obama’s focus on entrepreneurs [he will attend a global entrepreneurship summit] continues the positive shift from historical political-military relationships in Africa to a new series of economic-centric associations on the continent. To be truly successful, his visit must translate into substantial results that are sustained beyond the visit itself.”
Beyond the complex calculations of various actors, including some evangelical pastors and conservative MPs whose demands that Obama not advance the gay marriage agenda have stirred national debate, most Kenyans are simply happy to host a man many see as one of their own. Nowhere is the excitement at a greater pitch than in K’Ogelo, the village in Siaya, a county on the fringes of Lake Victoria, where Barack Obama Senior grew up.
“Obama is my brother,” said Michael Ochiel (42), reflecting the tendency of many Africans to ascribe kinship to anyone from their locality. “By coming to Kenya he will put the country on the world map, making Kenyans all over the world a proud people. I hope he extends his visit to K’Ogelo.”
Musa Ogilo (67), a maize miller, said the area had witnessed a quick transformation since Obama became president, citing the levelling of roads and extension of the electricity grid to the village by local authorities. But he called on Obama to build a proper hospital in the village, illustrating the fact that many Kenyans struggle to distinguish between the president’s duty to US citizens and to the land of his father’s birth.
Commentators say the excitement surrounding the visit may cloud the main objective — the global entrepreneurship summit, which the White House describes as an effort to gather entrepreneurs and investors from around the world with the aim of spurring economic opportunity.
Despite its ethnicised and occasionally violent politics — and the growing menace of the al-Shabab terror group, which has carried out attacks and triggered fears it might try to disrupt the visit — Kenya boasts one of the best-developed middle classes on the continent and has proved a big draw for US and European investors in recent years.
A financial analyst, Aly Khan Satchu, says Kenyan authorities would make a mistake if they allowed themselves to be caught up in the excitement, which he compared to John F Kennedy’s trip to Ireland in 1963, and passed up the opportunity to sell the country’s merits to the world: “Kenya, and Nairobi in particular, is globally fluent, has 21st-century connectivity and an impressive pool of human capital.”
It’s a view echoed by Chad Larson, one of three co-founders of one of the most successful enterprises driven by the growth of mobile money transfers in Kenya, M-Kopa. The business, incubated in part in chats between Larson and fellow students at Oxford University, sees users pay a deposit of about $35 for a solar system worth about $200 before settling the balance using mobile money transfers over a year.
The firm has sold 200 000 systems in Kenya and Uganda since its launch in 2010 and shifts about 500 a day. “We could not have properly got off the ground without the support of international investors who were willing to allow us to try different iterations and ultimately succeed,” says Larson. “It would be great if more local Kenyan investors were willing to back local enterprises and support the next M-Kopa. I hope Obama’s visit is a catalyst for that.”