Saturday, September 26, 2009



By David Ohito
The Standard

As Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s high-profile visit to the United States draws to a close, we today reveal glimpses of his moments with the leader of the world’s only superpower.

Exhorting the PM to urgently push for comprehensive reforms to stave off a repeat of the 2008 chaos, US President Barack Obama showed his deep concern for the people of Kenya, the land of his forefathers.

And the links between the Obamas and Kenya was amplified when the US First Family inquired after their Kenyan relatives, with Michelle Obama seeking to know how Mama Sarah Obama was faring.

She asked Mrs Ida Odinga, the PM’s wife, to keep an eye on Mama Sarah, Barack Obama’s grandmother.

The meeting presented Nairobi with its first big opportunity yet — to engage directly with Obama and the United States on the myriad national challenges.

During the twin meetings on Wednesday — at a luncheon and later at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art — in New York, the two leaders talked about reform in Kenya, with Obama saying he wishes Kenya well and would like to see the country succeed.

Obama asked Raila to push harder for faster reforms, saying he feared time was running out for some critical reforms. The PM told Obama that the Grand Coalition Government was doing its best to ensure the reforms were in place before the 2012 General Election.

They spoke about the raging debate on the Mau Forest Complex, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and police reforms. Raila rekindled memories of the airlift to the US, through which Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama Senior, secured a scholarship that saw him meet the future US President’s mother.

It all started at a luncheon hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Obama and Raila shook hands warmly, talked about Kenya briefly, and parted ways with the US President saying: "We need to talk."

The two leaders later engaged in deep consultations about Kenya, only moments before Washington issued instructions warning of imminent individual sanctions against 15 top Government officials over reforms and impunity.

In a statement, the PM’s spokesman Denis Onyango, said: "Raila appealed for a renewal of the ties and the spirit of the period of the Kennedy Administration, expressing hope that President Obama would lift Kenya from where the Kennedy ties left it."

Just like the Kennedy days

A day after meeting Obama, the PM headed to Obama’s Alma Mater, Harvard University, where he paid glowing tribute to the late President JF Kennedy.

He also headed to Boston where he delivered a lecture on ‘Democratisation and Democratic Transfer of Power in Africa’.

He also met the Obama Administration’s Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Karl E Wycoff.

The PM used the meetings to assure that the Coalition Government was committed to pursuing reforms, and also to draw attention to the challenges of saving the country’s endangered water towers.

Today, the PM heads to the United Nations headquarters for his final engagement where he will address the UN General Assembly. He will use the forum to draw attention to the dangers a collapsing Somalia poses to the region, and Kenya in particular.

Raila says Somalia could become Africa’s Afghanistan if the world does not act to save it now.