Friday, January 16, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
January 16, 2009

I was in Washington, DC on Kenya’s Jamhuri Day and again during Christmas holidays. It was pretty chilly by my standards. I was warned that it was going to be worse by January 20 when Barack Obama would assume the presidency of the United States of America.

On both occasions, unprecedented security arrangements were already in top gear on Philadelphia Avenue as was with the rest of DC area. There was already talk that the area where the ceremony would take place, an open ground with a capacity of one million standing room would choke with over four times that number.

For this reason, many residents of Washington area that include states like Maryland and Virginia would opt to watch the event in the cozy warmth of their heated living rooms. Others, overwhelmed by the surge in to the capital had opted to fly out to California, Nevada and Arizona to escape the chilly weather and the crowded city during the period.

It is true Barack Obama has his roots in Kenya and he is very proud of it just as most of us are of him. Personally I spent sleepless nights in East Africa in the last days of his campaign contemplating how I would cope with an Obama loss. I had invested so much morally and emotionally in this campaign. I had campaigned for Obama in more ways than I could care to think.

Let us face it; all over the world, there are Obama diehard supporters and then there are Obama fanatics; people ready to die for Obama if need be in all corners of the earth. You can find them in Japan, Brazil and Germany, inside United States, France and Nigeria. It is therefore normal to expect emotional attachment to anything Obama in this country; the country of his father.

This irrational affinity for Obama is the outcome of his unique popularity and adoration across the globe. However, one would have expected that as national leaders at the level of our cabinet ministers, there would have been some level of restraint in dealing with an Obama inauguration.

Going to Washington, DC at this moment in the history of the United States for an event in which our government was not invited has stretched the patience of Kenyans too far! The decision by Kenya’s foreign office to travel to the US for an event in which the Americans have publicly said they are not inviting them has put the Kenya political class in an awkward and embarrassing spot!

In our culture in Africa, if your friend holds a party for whatever reason, it is courteous to wait to be invited. You don’t just dress up and say, you will be in the vicinity even if your friend has told you publicly that you are free to be around but will not be allowed to join invited guests.

It is true Minister Najib Balala is in the US to market Kenya’s tourism; never mind that we have Kenya Tourism Board. However, is this the time to market Kenya to the Americans when their attention is all focused on Obama inauguration? Who will listen to a minister from some Third World talking about tourism this week in the United States?

It is true Prof Anyang’ Nyongo’ is on a trip to Cuba; however, is this the moment to pass through Washington, DC? Why would a Sports Minister travel to the US at this point in time? Worse still, why would a whole Kenyan Foreign Minister be in Washington on the fringes of this American event with the full knowledge that he is not welcome while his Ambassador is taking the front row at the party?

I am not against ministers and MPs travelling to the US at the expense of taxpayers’ money if there is something useful they are going to do; but to go on a joyride under the most embarrassing circumstances is to try our patience beyond our limits.
Before Wetangula boards his plane with his entourage, let him recall the few occasions an ordinary junior American Congressman or Senator has come to Kenya.

Let him remember when Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in their capacities as American Secretaries of State or better still, when Barack Obama last visited Kenya as a junior senator from Illinois. The whole of Nairobi came to a standstill all the way from the airport to their hotels of choice and any other place they visited. The amount of security, the elaborate high level arrangements including meeting with President Kibaki left nothing to chance. They commanded the local news headlines for the entire period they were in this country. The Kenya government bent backwards to succumb to their every whim just to get it right with the Bush administration.

Yet now, the Wetangula delegation is headed to the United States uninvited. That means there will be no American official to meet them at the airport, no security and no red carpets anywhere. If anything, they will be lucky if they are not subjected to humiliating body searches as comers at their port of entry. Suppose a mischievous American Homeland Security official asks them the reason why they are visiting the US and demands to see their letter s of invitation from the State Department for the Obama bash, what would they say? Do our ministers have to do this to embarrass us in front of the whole world? Do they have to gatecrash an American event?

I am aware that there will be other events on the fringes of the inauguration; one of them being an African event organized by African Ambassadors in Washington; the very gathering that Wetangula is supposed to address; but address it as who? Wetangula is no relative of Obama and doesn’t even know anything about him. He is not even representing the Kenya Government because the government is not invited in the first place. Ambassador Rateng’ Ogego could very well have represented Kenya in every Obama related event.

One more thing; the whole world will be tuning to every phrase Obama will utter on that day. The last thing they will want o listen to will be some mundane talk from some minister from Kenya who has left behind starving constituents back home.
This trip is misconceived and stinks in every aspect and no amount of justification can clean it.

Dr. Khalwale; you have a job to do as the chairman of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. Probe these joy riders and make them pay for this trip from their salaries! Kenya is tired of this unending plunder of public resources at a time when sane world governments are being frugal with their spending.