When he arrived in Boston in mid-March at the tail-end of one of the worst winter seasons ever recorded in the north-east coast of the US, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga was ambiguously reported to be a guest at the prestigious African Presidential Centre in Boston, Massachusetts.
Coming just weeks after the botched February 28 ODM elections at Kasarani Stadium, many questioned his decision to leave when his party was faced with a crisis.
Before he left, Mr Odinga set up an interim team to run the party — bringing together the faction led by Mombasa Senator Hassan Joho and Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba with that of nominated Senator Agnes Zani and Funyula MP Paul Otuoma. The former PM left Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o as the acting party leader.
“The fact that Raila came to the US soon after the ODM elections controversy was a coincidence because the Boston University engagement had been planned much earlier,” said Mr Sammy Maina, one of Mr Odinga’s allies in Boston.
Political commentator Jack Ambuka of State College, Pennsylvania, said Mr Odinga left Kenya at a time when his political influence was being questioned.
“It was as though Raila landed in the US on a plane that had lost one engine. Some people believed he had taken cover in the US to escape the swirling controversy around him following the bungled ODM elections,” he says.
Mr Odinga’s trip was also viewed with suspicion, with some Jubilee legislators questioning his admissibility in the Boston programme, which they claimed was only for retired heads of state. Others also alleged Mr Odinga had travelled to seek medical attention.
With no forthcoming explanation, doubts abound over the real motive of the trip.
“The idea that Mr Odinga, an accomplished politician, can spend two months away from Kenya to attend some school in America is unbelievable. I know he has been up to something sinister,” said Mr Joseph Kinuthia of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.
But Mr Maina told the Sunday Nation the reactions were surprising and naive.
“Of course we understood the confusion and anxiety because we gave out scanty information about his trip,” he said.
He believes some of the criticism came after a wide ranging interview Mr Odinga gave to Radio Boston early during his trip, where he gave the Jubilee government a reluctant “pass” after one year in office. The Kenyan embassy in Washington DC also ignored Mr Odinga during the trip.
Following the interest the study tour was attracting, the former PM’s team was forced to ask Mr Charles Stith, director of the African Presidential Centre at Boston University, to issue a clarification.
When he arrived in Boston in mid-March at the tail-end of one of the worst winter seasons ever
“He told us not to be concerned with such rhetoric coming from some Kenyan lawmakers and promised to deal with it himself. The following day, he issued a statement that stopped the people who were questioning Raila’s Boston programme,” said Mr Maina.
In the statement, Mr Stith, a former US ambassador to Tanzania, explained that Mr Odinga was invited to the US as a “statesman and a representative of the democratisation trend in Africa”. He said Mr Odinga qualified for the invitation because he was well placed to address the current state of democracy in Africa.
Referring to comments made by Kirinyaga Central MP Joseph Gitari, who had argued in Parliament that it was inappropriate for Mr Odinga to be included in the programme, Mr Stith said: “He doesn’t understand what our centre does. Instead of criticising us for inviting Mr Odinga, members of Kenya’s ruling party should take this as a badge of honour. Being selected to participate in a programme as prestigious as ours speaks well of the country,” he said.
Mr Maina said that Mr Odinga’s programme at Boston University was extensive, elaborate and demanding. Mr Odinga has delivered lectures in Morehouse College, University of Princeton, Elizabeth City State University, University of Columbia, and Harvard University and at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he is based.
But Mr George Osewe, the former PM’s personal assistant in the US tour, told the Sunday Nation that Mr Odinga still had to find time to engage in other issues beyond the Boston University programme.
“He has to respond to political issues coming out of Kenya while making sure that he also interacts with the Kenyan diaspora. It is very hard trying to balance the two,” said Mr Osewe.