Obama's Kenya Visit Sets Off a Turf War Over Grass

Kenya’s beautification efforts are drawing ire ahead of the first official visit by a sitting American head of state.

Seven-year-old Barack Obama, named after President Barack Obama, at the Senator Obama primary school in Kogelo village west of Nairobi (Thomas Mukoya / Reuters)

President Obama’s impending visit to Kenya isn’t just noteworthy because it is his father’s ancestral homeland—it will also be the first trip to the country by a sitting American president. Accordingly, as Wangui Kimari wrote at the website Africa Is a Country, Kenya is abuzz with Obama-themed investment expos, rugby matches, and merchandise—not to mention homophobic rhetoric.

“[18] University of Nairobi students have said they are going to kill themselves and 31 female students said they would urinate on the tree that Obama planted last time he was there in 2008 if he does not visit the university,” Kimari noted. “Secondary school students at Senator Obama Secondary School are imploring for Obama to visit them and fittingly change the school name to President Obama Secondary School.”

“The Obama craze has spared no sector, from mobile phone ringtones offering extracts from his speeches, to bespoke billboards highlighting products of all kinds in the light of the president's arrival,” CNN noted.

Nor, apparently, has the craze spared the very ground beneath Nairobians’ feet. The capital city’s grass is now trending on Twitter, due to an ill-timed, $500,000 public-works effort by Evans Kidero, Nairobi County’s governor, to “beautify” Nairobi ahead of the American president’s visit. Kidero, in what he called a “spirit of entrepreneurship,” arranged to have grass planted along major roads just days before the president was set to arrive—not leaving the seeds enough time to sprout. As Nairobi residents encountered signs planted in muddy tracts to keep off of grass that wasn’t there, the #KideroGrass hashtag was born.

some withering reassurance. “Honorable Kidero, the Governor of Nairobi, don’t worry, plant it, it will grow.”

Eventually, Kidero just owned it: