In Kenya Citizens applaud traffic-free Nairobi's Obama face-lift

"The coming of Obama is a gain to the government but not for us," said Boniface Mose, a motorcycle taxi operator also facing a lean few days.

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Residents walk past a commercial poster with the portrait photo of the U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of his scheduled State visit in Kenya's capital Nairobi July 23, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya play Residents walk past a commercial poster with the portrait photo of the U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of his scheduled State visit in Kenya's capital Nairobi July 23, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya (Reuters)
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Residents of Kenya's capital Nairobi enjoyed rare traffic-free roads on Friday morning as many businesses shut down or cut their trading hours ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to his father's homeland.

Police prepared to close major thoroughfares for several hours before Obama arrived, and financial markets said they would bring the shutters down early in the hurly-burly city of more than 3 million.

As well as laying on massive security because of the threat from Islamist al Shabaab militants from neighbouring Somalia, city officials have pulled out all the stops for Obama's visit, the first by a sitting U.S. president.

Gangs of workers have been planting grass along the main road from the airport and sprucing up major intersections with flowers and American and Kenyan flags.

"Nairobi looks so beautiful this morning. No traffic jams, just squeaky clean roads complete with potted plants," said Henry Kirimania, a worker at a city-centre bank.

Some Nairobians welcomed Obama's visit, saying it might serve as a reminder to Kenya's leaders of the need to transcend the tribal affiliations that tend to predominate in its politics.

"I'm very sure Obama's visit will make great changes in Kenya, more so in the democratic space. I really want things to work," said Josphat Osembe, a 40-year-old civil servant.

However, others were frustrated that road closures had forced shops and business to miss a day's trading.

"Business is down as Obama is coming. It has gone down by 80 percent because most people are at home," said Walter Odhiambo, a petrol station supervisor in downtown Nairobi.

Obama, the first black U.S. president, is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas. He traveled to Kenya as a U.S. senator but has not gone since entering the White House.

Security in east Africa will be a major topic during his visit. Over the past two years Kenya has suffered a series of major attacks by al Shabaab, including a massacre in April of 148 people at a Kenyan university near the Somali border.

After Kenya, Obama heads to neighbouring Ethiopia, Africa's most populous nation after Nigeria and one of the continent's fastest-growing economies.

Nairobi taxi drivers will applaud Air Force One's departure.

"The coming of Obama is a gain to the government but not for us," said Boniface Mose, a motorcycle taxi operator also facing a lean few days.

The effects of road closures were felt beyond the confines of the capital, with long-distance hauliers complaining about interruption to the main land route from the port city of Mombasa to Kenya's interior.

"The blockage is going to affect us seriously because about 1,500 trucks which use the Mombasa - Nairobi route daily will be grounded," said Willington Kiberenge, chief executive of the Kenya Transporters Association in Mombasa.

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