The new United States Ambassador to Kenya, Margaret (Meg) Whitman, arrived in Nairobi at the weekend, where a full in-tray awaited her, including the upcoming General Election next week.
Whitman was endorsed by the US Senate two weeks ago after President Joe Biden had nominated her to head the US Mission in Nairobi.
She was welcomed to her new station by Charge d’Affaires Eric Kneedler, who has been the acting ambassador since last year in January after the departure of Kyle MacCarter.
Meg landed in the country as it prepares to conduct polls next week.
Days after her arrival, US Embassy in Nairobi has today issued a travel advisory to its citizens and personnel to exercise caution while visiting the lakeside city of Kisumu during the electioneering period.
Through a statement, the US Embassy imposed movement restrictions and further cautioned its citizens to only visit the city if and when necessary.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy has imposed movement restrictions on personnel in Kisumu. The State Department reminds US citizens of the continued need for sustained vigilance,” the security alert read in part.
To ensure US citizens are protected ahead of the August 9 General Election, the Embassy advised them to monitor local media for updates, avoid crowds, avoid demonstrations and be vigilant when visiting banks or ATMs.
The Embassy also cautioned American citizens against displaying signs of wealth such as wearing expensive jewelry or watches.
To remain safe while moving around the country, the Embassy encouraged them to carry proper identification, including a copy of the bio-page of a US passport with a copy of a current Kenyan visa.
“Election-related demonstrations and rallies regularly take place in the run-up to the election and are likely to continue, at times blocking key intersections and causing traffic jams.
“Demonstrations may occasionally be violent, requiring police intervention. Strikes and other protest activities related to economic conditions occur regularly,” the security alert noted.
Her arrival to the country also comes amidst the escalation of diplomatic imbalance between the US and the country after those who intended to travel to the USA were told to wait until June 2024 to secure a visitor’s visa appointment at the embassy.
Through a statement posted on its website, the embassy told applicants to expect delays in most stages of visa processing.
The embassy narrated that the interruptions were caused by a significant backlog of applications resulting from closures due to COVID-19.
“The next available dates for a visitor visa appointment in Nairobi are in June 2024. US Embassy Nairobi recognises the significant challenges and frustrations this poses for Kenyans planning to visit the United States,” read the statement.
However, the embassy said it was aware that many visa applicants had paid the visa application-processing fee and were waiting to schedule a visa appointment and thus were speeding up the process.
The US State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs says the average waiting period for a US visitor visa appointment in Nairobi is 687 days.
This compared to other countries triples the average wait time for a US traveler visa in London.
The statement by the US embassy claimed that due to the Covid-19 health and safety measures, on-migrant visa interviews at the Nairobi office ceased for over a year and interviews only restarted at full capacity in February.
It further noted that since resuming operations, the mission in Nairobi had doubled the number of daily interventions adding that they would continue to add more staff and increase capacity over time.
“As we work through the backlog of the applications and address the high demand for services, we recognise that some applicants may face extended visa interview wait timers. This is a worldwide problem that the US embassies are diligently striving to address,” the statement added.