The decision to bar former Prime Minister Raila Odinga from some government VIP lounges at Kenyan airports was made with the full knowledge of top government officials, it can be revealed.
According to a confidential letter seen by the Nation, Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia directed the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Mr Karanja Kibicho, to ensure that nobody accessed the airport apron or VIP lounges except those listed.
Although Mr Odinga was not specifically barred, he was not on the list provided by Mr Kimemia.
“It has come to our notice that unauthorised persons have in the past been allowed to enter into the aprons of our airports. This is contrary to our security procedures including international standards that regulate the sector,” the letter dated May 9, 2013, said in part.
Mr Kimemia listed the President and Deputy President, retired Kenyan presidents, and visiting heads of State and government as the category of VIPs permitted to access the aprons of local airports.
Mr Kimemia also warned airport management against allowing anybody to use the Government VIP lounges unless they were on a list provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He threatened “severe disciplinary action including summary dismissal” should any unauthorised persons be allowed on the apron or the VIP lounges.
It was on the strength of that letter that airport staff started barring Mr Odinga from the VIP lounges. The former PM was retired President Kibaki’s co-principal in the Grand Coalition government.
“Please enforce this directive personally and ensure full adherence and compliance,” Mr Kimemia wrote.
The letter was copied to Deputy President William Ruto, Interior Permanent Secretary Mutea Iringo, the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, the chairman of the Kenya Airports Authority Mutuma Mugambi and managing director Stephen Gichuki.
For avoidance of doubt, he said, other authorised retired VIPs who served the government should only be allowed to transit through government lounges in the airports. This means that their convoys should not be allowed to pick them from the aprons.
“It is however reiterated that only those authorised to utilise the VIP government lounges should access them as listed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in consultation with this office.”
It was not possible on Sunday to get an official from the Foreign ministry to provide a list of those authorised to use VIP lounges.
When the controversy first broke out after Mr Odinga was blocked from the government VIP facilities, Mr Kimemia’s office denied that it had written a letter giving such a directive.
A statement from his office said that he was not responsible for the VIP lounges at the airports, which were managed by the Foreign ministry.
Last Tuesday, the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) said that JKIA has three VIP lounges — the State Pavilion for the President and visiting Heads of State, the VIP III Lounge for the Deputy President and retired Heads of State and the Government VIP Lounge for ambassadors and government VIPs.
The previous day it was reported that Mr Odinga and his wife Ida, had on separate occasions been barred from the VIP lounges.
While travelling to South Africa on Tuesday night, Mr Odinga was again blocked from using the VIP Lounge at the JKIA.
This perhaps explains why the former PM snubbed the use of the lounge when he arrived in the country from South Africa instead choosing to use the public arrival area.
Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, who left the country on Saturday night for China, declined to use the VIP lounge at JKIA and instead opted for the Emirates Airlines First Class lounge.
The decision to bar Mr Odinga from accessing the VIP lounges at the airport drew sharp criticism with many saying it was meant to humiliate him.
In Parliament last Thursday, Majority Leader Aden Duale claimed that Mr Odinga had tried to have his motorcade drive straight to the apron.
Mr Odinga’s aides had previously denied claims by airport authorities that he had tried to drive onto the apron or to use the presidential pavilion.
Mr Duale said the former PM was free to use the ordinary government VIP lounge, but he did not qualify for the Lounge III reserved for the ranks or Deputy President and retired presidents.