NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 23 – Presidential tours are always expensive, but especially so when the country being visited is, like Kenya, the scene of regular terrorist attacks.
US and Kenyan officials are fixated on making sure Al-Qaeda’s Somali-led affiliate, the Shabaab, cannot violently disrupt the US presidential visit this week.
“The American president is a high value target so an attack, or even an attempt, would raise the profile of Shabaab,” warned Richard Tutah, a Nairobi-based security and terrorism expert.
Mitigating that is an overwhelming security presence in the capital. “The level of security is suffocating,” said Abdullahi Halakhe, a regional security analyst.
President Barack Obama is due to address an international business summit in Nairobi, an event the US embassy itself warned could be “a target for terrorists”.
The closely-held details of the security arrangements for the three-day visit are a source of endless fascination and speculation in the Kenyan media.
“US President Obama’s Security Gadgets Arrive,” read the headline in The Star, a tabloid with a talent for Kenyan security scoops.
“A US military cargo plane… will ferry in a whole range of secure advanced communications equipment, some of it to be used by President Obama himself when he lands,” the paper breathlessly reported.
Hundreds of American security personnel have arrived in Kenya in recent weeks. Kenyan media reports that three hotels — the Sankara, Villa Rosa Kempinski and Intercontinental — have been scouted by the Secret Service.
– The Beast –
This week the distinctive Osprey tilt-rotor aircrafts, usually stationed at the US military base in Djibouti, flew over Nairobi alongside a White Hawk chopper with presidential insignia, causing much excitement on social media.
Other military helicopters have been flown in reportedly from a US Special Forces facility at Kenya’s Manda Bay base, which serves as a launchpad for raids on Shabaab in Somalia.
Kenya is also playing its part. Nairobi’s police commander Benson Kibue said on Wednesday that 10,000 police officers — roughly one quarter of the entire national force — would be deployed to the capital.
Kibue also said that a series of main roads would be closed on Friday and Saturday, in a move that will paralyse the traffic-clogged city.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority announced that national airspace will be closed for 50-minutes on arrival and 40-minutes on departure, unwittingly publicising the exact dates and timings of Obama’s travel.
Kenya and Islamic extremism have been entwined since 1998 when Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Nairobi.
While in capital, Obama is expected to travel in his bespoke, bomb-proof limousine, nicknamed ‘The Beast’.