Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (center L) greets US President Barack Obama as he arrives aboard Air Force One at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 26, 2015.

Addis Ababa – For an insular country like Ethiopia, the first visit by a United States President is a thrill.

And even if Obamamania has not struck this country quite as much as it gripped Kenya over the last three days, it is certainly generating excitement.

Obama flew into Addis Ababa on Sunday after paying his first visit to Kenya, the birthplace of his father, since he became president in 2009.

It was also the first visit to that country by an incumbent US president.

Obama had visited both countries before that, coming to Ethiopia once before as the junior US Senator for Illinois in July 2006, when he was virtually unknown here as elsewhere.

Even so, his election in November 2008 was followed keenly and his inauguration transmitted live on the rather usually staid national TV in January 2009.

However, with the passage of time, the naming of barber shops, khat houses, internet cafes and the memes after him has died down.

Now in the twilight years of his presidency, Obama is not as fascinating to Ethiopians as he was back then.

But his impending presence in the flesh certainly set Addis Ababa buzzing, especially with debate about his huge security entourage.

FM Radio stations competing for viewership have been full of stories of the leaked travel itinerary plan, the security measures he took in Kenya, while social media has been buzzing with “photos” of low flying US helicopters and Hercules planes at the Bole Addis Ababa International Airport, preparing for his arrival here.

Unlike Kenya, though, there has not been tons of Obama paraphernalia sold on the streets here.

Residents seem resigned to being inconvenienced by traffic congestion caused by streets being closed off to allow Obama and his entourage through.

In the normally tightly controlled media environment in Ethiopia, the visit’s implication has been more freely discussed than other issues on social media sites.

While hashtags such as “#What Obama should visit” and “#What Obama should be asked” have been trending among some activists, for most this is just a spectacle, an opportunity to see the leader of the most powerful democracy in the world on national TV.

The US also has the largest concentration of people of Ethiopian origin living outside their home country, with the ministry of foreign affairs asserting that up to about a million reside there.

This connection which many people here have with the US is adding to the interest in the visit.

Obama will on Monday hold official meetings with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Mulatu Teshome, where security challenges in the region including the crises in Somalia and in Africa’s youngest nation South Sudan, are likely to top the agenda.

Obama is then due to hold a joint press conference with Desalegn with local, foreign and members of the US Press Corps.

He is then scheduled to visit the African Union headquarters here to meet African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma, before departing for home.

 

ANA