Obama’s visit to Kenya commenced in a reactionary frenzy to CNN’s pre-visit headline that Kenya is a hotbed of terrorism. Africanists chronically discuss how Western media focuses on negative stories to perpetuate a sense of Africa as a place of despair, disease and violence. But this particular headline touched a raw nerve for Kenyans, Africans, and those who understand Africa because Obama was visiting Kenya to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit — a gathering of over 1,000 entrepreneurs from around the world, convening to discuss how small business, with an emphasis on technology, will drive Africa’s economy forward.
This was a meeting that attracted the senior leadership of companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, General Electric, etc. Africa is home to five of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, and Nairobi is considered the Silicon Valley of Africa. The fact that this dynamic business agenda was translated into another story of despair on the continent of Africa was a tipping point, proving to many that no matter what the reality, Western media will find a negative angle to tell the story when it relates to Africa.
At the opening plenary session for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, each keynote speaker reacted to the CNN headline. President Obama, President Kenyatta, and Julie Gicheru the master of ceremonies, took turns at re-writing the headline to say that Kenya is a Hotbed of Innovation, a Hotbed of Entrepreneurship, a Hotbed of Investment Opportunity.
A new Twitter hashtag started trending: #SomeoneTellCNN. Successful Kenyan businessman Chris Kirubi, who Forbes estimates has a net worth in excess of $200 million, led the social media backlash with a tweet directed at CNN that went viral: “Unless you are the one bringing the terror, we are a hotbed of investment opportunities & great people.”
The presidential visit went off without any security breaches, and ultimately, Obama, not the media, drove the U.S. agenda with Kenya in a speech to a stadium of 5,000 well wishers. His remarks captured the full and robust set of messages that he wished to deliver as the first U.S. president to visit Kenya, the home of his forefathers. Below are key points from his speech, after he was introduced by his Kenyan half sister, Dr. Auma Obama.
In the end, Obama’s visit showcased the current strength and ongoing political and economic development of this important nation which anchors East Africa as a hotbed of many qualities, the least of which is terror. If anything, the backlash against the headline helped to galvanize a consistent branding of Kenya as a hotbed of technology and business innovation on the African continent. All in all, not a bad outcome from a negative headline.