Monday, September 21, 2009



By David Ohito and Peter Opiyo
The Standard

Prime Minister Raila Odinga will after all meet US President Barack Obama, The Standard has established.

Information received last night from New York indicated the PM and his Wife Ida will join a select group of Heads of State and Government at a dinner meeting with Obama at a separate function on Wednesday.

Former US President Bill Clinton would host Raila for lunchon Tuesday before dining with Obama together with Clinton on Wednesday evening at the Obama fete.

These dinner and luncheon dates steal the thunder from the diplomatic row that was building up, especially after a Kenyan diplomat was reported to have advised the US State Department Raila was not a Head of State and should not represent Kenya at an Obama luncheon for sub-Saharan Heads of State.

US President Barack Obama: Raila Odinga is set to meet Obama alongside former US President Bill Clinton at the dinner to be hosted at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, a short distance from the UN complex

Within the Raila camp, the heat was rising, fuelled by claims that the PM was being exposed to this ridicule by a group close to the President that was out to ensure Raila does not meet with Obama before Kibaki. This paranoia stems from the perception that given Obama’s father’s ancestry to Kenya and Nyanza specifically, America’s first black president may give Raila — who inherited his father’s clout in the province — more than a cursory glance or casual contact.

Raila arrived to the US to be met with the news of ‘disinvitation’ — and all fingers in his side seemed to point to the schisms and rivalry in ruling coalition.

Raila is set to meet Obama alongside former US President Bill Clinton at the dinner to be hosted at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, a short distance from the UN complex.

"None of the Kenyan delegation, including two ambassadors Rateng’ Ogego in Washington and Muburi Muita, the permanent representative to the UN will attend, but Raila is invited," Raila’s spokesman Dennis Onyango said from New York.

Lunch date

He said the White House official communication said the PM was excluded from the luncheon.

"The luncheon was not on the PM’s itinerary when he left Nairobi because he is scheduled for another lunch date with Mr Clinton," said Onyango.

Sources privy to the goings-on said a section of politicians are unhappy because Kibaki and Raila may have found a formula for working together but those who have succession stakes are not taking it lightly.

The source said the row has raged secretly for about three months since Kibaki decided that Raila represents the country at the UN General Assembly.

A section of Kibaki’s men — including Deputy Prime minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetangula and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka — are believed to have mounted the campaign that Raila was not a Head of State and is not formally head of Government and could not represent Kenya at Obama’s lunch table.

"Kibaki agreed to Raila representing Kenya after he learnt that the PM would be in New York for an earlier scheduled meeting with former President Bill Clinton this week and the dinner hosted by Obama at The Waldorf Asteria Hotel a short distance from UN," Mr Onyango said.

On Sunday, the US denied claims that Raila was dropped from the lunch list with Obama on account of Kenya’s poor record in fighting graft.

The country’s ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger said there was a "technical mix up" in the administration of the invitation letter that was initially extended to Raila.

He said only Heads of States from Africa were invited to the luncheon with Obama on the sidelines of the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly.

By virtue of being the coordinator and supervisor of government, Raila does not qualify for the luncheon that would be hosted by White House tomorrow.

Ranneberger told The Standard by telephone: "It was a purely technical issue, it is nothing to do with Kenya’s fight against corruption. Only the African heads of states were invited."

Raila was earlier invited to attend the luncheon in New-York but the letter was cancelled last Friday, a day after Raila arrived in the US to attend the UN General Assembly.

But according to a press briefing by UN Ambassador Susan Rice posted on the White House website, tomorrow’s luncheon would be for "Heads of States and Governments from sub-Saharan Africa."

Job creation

Rice said the luncheon would be crucial since it would focus on how the US can work in partnership with African governments to strengthen African development.

"The talk will focus primarily on three topics: job creation, especially for young people; creating a more conducive climate for trade and investment; and ways to mobilise African agriculture to create jobs and help feed the continent," Rice said.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to be drawn into the matter, saying the PM and Wetangula can handle the matter effectively in New York.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka told The Standard: "Both can handle the matter conveniently. What I know is that the PM’s diary is so loaded that this incident would not have a negative impact."

Another source at the ministry said they were puzzled over the cancellation of Raila’s invitation for the luncheon as "he is representing the Head of State and is the head of Kenyan delegation to the UN summit."

Obama is expected to deliver a keynote address at the Secretary General’s summit on climate change. This is a head of state-level meeting open to the entire UN membership.

Raila will address the General Assembly on Friday. He will also attend a high-profile meeting on climate change at the gathering.

Apart from visiting Egypt to talk to the Muslim world, the US President chose Ghana in July to reach out to sub-Saharan Africa, snubbing Kenya in what analysts argued was the America’s displeasure with the East African country’s leadership.

Also with Raila in the trip are Cabinet ministers John Michuki (Environment), Beth Mugo (Public Health) and Wycliffe Oparanya (Planning).