Prime Minister Raila to visit America

Its official, Prime Minister Raila Odinga will in the next fortnight make his first official tour of the United States.

It will be the first time that Raila has visited to the United States since the formation of the coalition government and his appointment as Prime Minister.

US ambassador, to Kenya Michael Ranneberger confirmed the “high profile trip” during which Raila is expected to meet with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and other top members of the Bush administration.

“It’s a great time to go and when Kenya’s image is on the rebound. It’s a perfect opportunity to sell Kenya’s new image,” Ranneberger told Classic 105.2 in an interview.

Raila will meet a wide range of government officials, business people and is also expected to address the US Congress in Washington.

The Congress is the bicameral legislature of the country’s federal government which consists of 100 senators and the 435 House of Representatives.

Ranneberger said Raila’s “heavy agenda” would also see him sign a number of agreements with the US government.

Coming so soon after Senator Barack Obama’s historic nomination as the first ever black man to run for the US presidency, it is also likely that Raila may have a private meeting with the candidate whom he has described as a “cousin” even though there is no direct relationship between them.

Obama is a senator representing Illinois and has a real chance of becoming the first ever black American president.

Asked whether the itinerary being prepared for Raila would include such a meeting, Ranneberger was non-committal. “Raila’s programme is not complete yet but he will meet Congress members and we do not know whom at this point in time.”

Raila’s tour to the United States and his meetings with top members of the Bush administration will also be historic and controversial.

He will be the first PM of an independent Kenya to meet a US president. The country’s first prime minister Mzee Jomo Kenyatta did not, for the one year he was in office and neither did he do so when he became president.

The tour is likely to generate a lot of heat in the coalition government considering that president Kibaki has not been invited for a visit to the country since he was controversially sworn for a second term.

When president Kibaki was heroically elected president for a first term in 2002, president Bush invited him for a grand visit to White House where he was feted alongside first lady Lucy Kibaki.

During the post election crisis period, ministers of the then half-formed government complained that the US government’s response to the crisis showed an obvious bias to Raila and the ODM, allegations which the embassy has denied.

The US government’s offer to give Sh 30 Million to help in equipping and setting up the office of the prime minister was also seen as yet another indication of its preference and reinforced the accusation that it had played a role in forcing the political solution in favour of ODM.

The treasury was quick to issue a directive barring individual ministers from seeking donor support on their own and without involving it.

But a week later, Raila defiantly met with the French Secretary of State for Cooperation and Francophony Mr Alain Joyander at his Treasury office and requested for assistance in enhancing the capacity of his office.

In the supplementary budget voted last month, Raila’s office received a paltry Sh243.9 million and Sh183.4 million for recurrent and development expenses which analysts said was not enough to set a new ministry.

During the interview with the radio station, Ranneberger said the expanded cabinet of 42 was a necessary political requirement and urged those still grumbling to accept it and move on.

He said although the Electoral Commission of Kenya had some “heavy responsibility” for the December election fiasco, those responsible were still in office and were currently organizing the by-elections, “But the only option available would have been to delay the by-elections but it would be unfair to do so because the people deserve representation.”

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