Raila Odinga: the new ally of the West

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga narrowly missed Kenya’s Presidency but he may be landing himself a new role as point man of the West in Africa.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a press conference after disputed election results were announced, January 2008.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga at a press conference after disputed election results were announced, January 2008

The United States, UK and the European Union have clearly identified Mr Odinga as their new man in Africa. Mr Odinga just met Zimbabwean presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Like Mr Odinga, Tsvangirai believes he was been robbed of victory in elections held in Zimbabwe on March 29. Unlike Kenya, there were no riots in Zimbabwe and Mr Tsvangirai is now an exile in Botswana.

Its not known why Mr Odinga met Tsvangirai. However, the fact that Odinga flew directly from Germany to meet Tsvangirai in South Africa means he had an important message to deliver. Mr Odinga had been in Germany for close to a week undergoing laser eye surgery in his left eye.

Mr Odinga’s German connections stretch back to his college days when he studied Engineering in the former East Germany. It is said that Mr Odinga can speak German. During last year’s presidential campaigns, Mr Odinga was endorsed by a prominent German national with interests in Kenya. Asked on his support for Mr Odinga, the German said that his support was of a personal nature and not from the German government.

Following dispute in the presidential results between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, it was the German Ambassador that was among the first to express reservations over the results.

Meanwhile, the United States is shifting its allegiance from President Mwai Kibaki to Raila if recent statements by its ambassador are anything to go by. A US government donation of $525,000 to the Prime Minister’s office is causing a row within the giant coalition. President Kibaki’s allies have criticized the US for creating a “parallel” government by sponsoring the Prime Minister as an individual.

The US Ambassador, Mr Michael Rannenberger, has made statements sympathetic to Raila Odinga’s ODM party. Last week, Mr Rannenberger said that election related violence that killed about 1,500 people early this year was not ethnic in nature. “The violence was overwhelmingly, almost absolutely related to land … it was not about ethnic hatred,” Rannenberger is quoted as saying. This conforms to ODM’s official response that the violence was a “spontaneous outburst of long-held grievances sparked off by a stolen election.”

Human Rights Watch, earlier this year, released a report stating that senior officials in the ODM party were behind the violence in the Rift Valley. Between December 2007 and February 2008, hundreds of Kikuyu and Kisii were killed in parts of the Rift Valley for allegedly supporting President Kibaki. The Kalenjin gave most of their votes to the ODM, which had promised greater autonomy to its supporters.

At the height of the violence in January, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazier, visited Kenya and concluded that genocide was taking place. Ambassador Rannenberger’s statements would appear that the US is willing to accept the ODM version of events.

The United Kingdom has also expressed support for the giant coalition. High Commissioner Adam Wood has said that for Kenya to recover, the Accord creating the coalition must be adhered to by all partners. Britain has further echoed the ODM party line that the violence was sparked off by, “unfair distribution of job opportunities to the youth.”

ODM ran its elections campaign on a platform of equal distribution of resources, alleging that President Kibaki had directed state resources to his Kikuyu people. The government denied the charges stating that recruitment was based on academic and professional considerations, not on ethnic origins.

Its difficult to say how Raila Odinga will fit into the new expectations of the West. Until now, the African leaders popular with the West have been Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. President Jakaya Kikwete is also becoming another blue-eyed boy of the West. Of late, Museveni, Zenawi and Kagame have had their own problems with the US and the EU.

After 20 years in office, Museveni is increasingly appearing like the typical African “Big Man.” Zenawi’s continued crackdowns on the opposition in Ethiopia could get embarrassing for his Western backers. Kagame is also not pleased with insinuations by France and Spain that his rebel forces were responsible for killing former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994. Kikwete’s Tanzania does not have the strategic significance of Kenya. With Kenya’s economic dominance of the region, Raila could be a very appealing possibility for Western strategists.

Of course, Kenya’s neighbors are well aware of emerging developments. A few days ago, an event in Uganda passed relatively unnoticed in Kenya. President Kikwete and President Museveni held a meeting to, “discuss issues of bilateral importance.”


One Response

  1. It might be worth mentioning that Mr. Odinga is a relation of Barrack Obama.

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