Tuesday, August 29, 2006
US politician given reception fit for a king in Kenya visit
Story by OSCAR OBONYO the Daily Nation (Kenya)
Publication Date: 8/27/2006
When he visited Kenya in 1983 and later in 1991, US Senator Barack Obama did so quietly and even squeezed himself in a matatu on the way to his father's home in Alego, Siaya District.
Mr Obama describes the matatu (the rural type where passengers sit in two rows facing one another) in his memoir Dreams from my Father, as "a sad-looking vehicle with balding, cracked tyres".
Travelling long before enforcement of the so-called Michuki rules, the senator ended up carrying his half sister Auma on his lap together with a basket of yams while supporting a crying baby! This time round, though, he is travelling high-class with a big security detail to boot.
In fact his visit has elicited excitement across the country and attracted global interest with a battery of local and international journalists hot on his trail.
And unlike previous visits when he was received by his kinsmen, who had travelled hundreds of kilometres from western Kenya, last Thursday he arrived to a posh reception by US ambassador Michael Ranneberger and Foreign Affairs assistant minister Moses Wetangula.
Smiling shyly at the Vice-Presidential pavillion at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Thursday evening, he waved at journalists but refused to take any questions.
As if preoccupied by memories of 1983 and 1991, when he mingled with other passengers and walked past the immigration desk unnoticed, Mr Obama looked shy and restrained, occasionally tapping his foot on the carpet.
But at successive events, looked more relaxed and cheerful.
On Friday, when he called on leader of Official Opposition Uhuru Kenyatta, he cracked a joke and burst into laughter as we proceeded out of Mr Kenyatta's office.
"I think I recognise you. You have been following me all along since I landed in the country. I hope you mean well," he teased.
Trailing the US Senator has been a difficult task, with conflicting alerts from the US embassy and ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.
Probably as a security measure, the two offices deliberately misled the media over Mr Obama's arrival.
While all media outlets announced his arrival at 10 pm, the senator quietly landed in the country at 6pm. It is perfectly in order for the senator to have been received by an assistant minister.
But many people had anticipated the presence of high-ranking government officials and opposition chiefs, especially Mr Raila Odinga, Nyanza Province's political heavyweight, where Mr Obama has his roots. The Lang'ata MP actually stayed out of the Nairobi itinerary and only linked up with Mr Obama yesterday morning in Kisumu.
Also lining up to receive the senator were local MPs Anyang' Nyong'o (Kisumu Town) and Kennedy Nyagudi (Kisumu Town West). The Government's repeatedly announced that Mr Obama's tour was a State visit.
But a few days later, Foreign Affairs minister Raphael Tuju, who has a frosty relationship with Mr Odinga, seemed to go easy by re-stating that the senator's visit was semi-official "since he has family matters to attend to". Mr Tuju was not in Nyanza yesterday.
And contrary to expectation, the senator landed in Kisumu aboard a commercial, East African Air Safari Express, flight instead of the private jet he flew into the country in.
Unlike other US senators who come into the country on commercial flights and leave the country unnoticed, his visit is big time.
He enjoyed no ordinary security escort with all roads leading to the airport and the city centre being sealed off. His way was cleared all through to Nairobi’s Serena Hotel.