Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kenya PM dropped from Obama luncheon

Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Photo/FILE 

By NATION Team

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga arrived in the United States of America on Saturday night to news of cancellation of a luncheon with US President Barack Obama which had earlier been scheduled for later this week.

The news followed a round of confusion over whether he would attend the luncheon, hosted by the White House for selected leaders from sub-Saharan Africa on the sidelines of the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

New York-based Kenyan ambassador to the UN Zachary Muburi-Muita told the Nation on Saturday night that the State Department contacted him on Friday to “disinvite” Mr Odinga from the September 22 luncheon with President Obama in New York for African leaders.

The ambassador last Monday confirmed to the Nation that he had received an invitation letter for the PM to attend the luncheon. A dispatch to the Foreign Affairs ministry from Kenya’s Ambassador to Washington, Mr Peter Ogego, seen by the Nation confirmed the cancellation.

On Saturday, the Mr Muburi-Muita said State Department officials told him that the earlier invitation was sent accidentally; that the luncheon is actually only for African heads of State and not heads of government.

But at the White House Press briefing on Friday, US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the following: “The President will also host on the 22nd a lunch for heads of state and government from sub-Saharan Africa.” 

Mr Muburi-Muita said the cancellation was disappointing and did not know why the invitation was issued in the first place, only to be rescinded. “This is something we expect from a third world country, not from the United States,” he said. Mr Odinga will participate in the Opening of the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly and General Debate.

The Prime Minister will make his addresses to the General Assembly on the afternoon of Friday as the 12th speaker. While in the US, the PM will address a number of gatherings and bilateral meetings on critical issues in Kenya.

He is also scheduled to hold discussions with various Heads of State and Government. On Saturday, the Nation learnt from other government sources quoting a dispatch from Kenya’s ambassador to the US Peter Ogego, that no arrangements had been made for Mr Odinga and President Obama to meet.

In Nairobi, neither Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula nor his PS Mwangi Thuita returned our calls. President Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, has kept his distance from both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga as a signal of US displeasure with Kenya’s response to official corruption, ethnic violence and police abuses.

The American leader chose Ghana as his first official destination in Africa, and he did not invite Mr Odinga to a White House meeting when the Prime Minister visited the US in June.

Kenya has been left out of the list of 40-plus countries invited to the luncheon, and will be among nations the US is snubbing because of disputes over their governance or an antagonistic relationship with Washington. They include Eritrea, Guinea, Madagascar, Niger, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

“We are looking to have a dialogue with responsible leaders about the future of Africa’s economic and social development,” Susan Rice said on Monday in announcing the luncheon.

It has however been confirmed that Mr Odinga will attend a High-Level Meeting on Climate Change at the UN General Assembly and hold a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Assembly and another on Level Event on Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.

Hold discussions

He will hold discussions with the Clinton Global Initiative, attend the Africa Investor Index Series Summit and be at the Head of State/Government Roundtable within the General Assembly. The PM will also hold discussions with the International Contact Group on Somalia to discuss the situation in the neighbouring country.

On Thursday, the PM will deliver a lecture at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Public Administration on his Vision on the Challenges of Democratic Transition and Transfer of Power in Africa. Mr Odinga is accompanied by Cabinet ministers John Michuki, Beth Mugo and Wycliffe Oparanya.

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