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Kenyan Prime Minister Speaks Out on Zimbabwe


Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s critical remarks about Zimbabwe have reverberated through a speech he delivered Tuesday at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) during his first official visit to the United States. Describing the southern African country as an eyesore and an embarrassment to the African continent, Odinga called for President Robert Mugabe to resign if he fails to win Zimbabwe’s June 27 presidential run-off election. He criticized the silence of some African leaders, who he said have failed to speak out about election irregularities in Zimbabwe. The Kenyan prime minister also urged South African President Thabo Mbeki and other regional leaders of the Southern African Community (SADC) to get international monitors on the ground in time to curb election fraud in Zimbabwe’s presidential run-off. Journalist Paul Ndiho covered Mr. Odinga’s Washington speech for the Voice of America’s TV to Africa. He says that the prime minister came by his personal views on the Zimbabwe crisis from first-hand electoral experience in his own country.

“I don’t think he was speaking on behalf of the Kenyan government because we haven’t heard President Kibaki say something along these lines. I think he was speaking in his capacity as the prime minister of Kenya and in his capacity as Raila Odinga, who is also a Pan-Africanist, who wants to see change in Zimbabwe. He called himself a pessimistic African, who thinks that African leaders ought to do more to stop the silence and maybe speak out more about what’s going on in Zimbabwe,” said Ndiho.

Odinga, the presidential candidate for Kenya’s main opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), became prime minister in April in a coalition government, sharing power with the disputed winner of last December 27 Kenyan presidential elections, incumbent President Mwai Kibaki. Ndiho notes that Raila Odinga is optimistic in describing how Kenya’s own power sharing government is emerging after three months of hard negotiations, determined to succeed in restoring stability and bringing economic recovery.

“He said they are very, very hopeful that this coalition government will work. But if it works, then it’s going to be a model for other African states in the future. He talked about how the coalition government has come together not only to look at what happened during the post-election violence, but he also talked about what the government is doing as far as resettling the IDP’s, the land issue in Nyanza province. He pretty much touched on every single thing the coalition government is trying to do to bring back Kenya to what it was before the election. And he also urged the US government and other partners to come back to Kenya, not to watch from the sidelines, but to help them rebuild a country that was once known as a beacon of hope for Africa,” he said.

Besides resettlement assistance, Ndiho cites economic assistance, support for health care, and tourism as areas in which Washington can help the Nairobi government get back on its feet.

“The number one thing would be the economy because they lost so much when they went through that period of violence. So basically, he’s urging the US government and other concerned partners to give a helping hand to Kenya, not in terms of development, but maybe aid that can help to relocate those people who are displaced, aid that can go to the health care system, aid that can go to the tourism industry, which has been, even still is the bread and butter of Kenya,” he said.

Prime Minister Odinga also addressed hunger as another pressing issue, affecting large regions of his country and also affecting Kenya’s role in serving as a hub for hunger relief in neighboring Somalia. He spoke about Kenya’s role as a US ally in the war against terrorism and welcomed foreign investment in Kenyan business as the way to build a secure future. Journalist Ndiho also noted that it was ironic but understandable that much of the Kenyan prime minister’s discussion yesterday at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) focused on the political crisis in another African country.

“I think that the reason Zimbabwe took center stage is simply because he’s one of those African leaders who has spoken out against the (Mugabe) regime because he’s been a victim in Kenya. He won the election, and – according to him, he’s the president who was never sworn in. That is how he put it. So I think when he looks back at what he went through last year and the early part of this year, somehow, it keeps on resonating in his mind. And with all that is going on right now in Zimbabwe, he said there is no way they can have an independent, later on, free and fair election because the opposition’s hands are tied,” he noted.

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