Monday, 10 June 2013

Treating Raila Odinga so shoddily is unworthy of a reasonable government

Posted  Monday, June 10  2013 at  19:11

It is now official. If Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica, David Cameron of Britain, Manmohan Singh of India, or Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel paid us a visit, the government would deny them the use of the presidential pavilion and the top VIP lounge at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The official Kenya Government position is that a Prime Minister is a second-rate leader who can never be accorded the privileges befitting a president.
Therefore as merely a former prime minster, Mr Raila Odinga cannot enjoy the same access to the VIP sanctums granted his co-principal in the defunct Grand Coalition government, retired President Mwai Kibaki; or the other ex-president, Daniel arap Moi.
That was the gist of the government stand delivered in Parliament last Thursday by ever-garrulous Majority Whip Aden Duale in response to the brouhaha over the former Prime Minister suddenly being shut out of government VIP lounges at Kenyan airports.
Mr Duale took the House through the various VIP facilities at the airports and made it clear that a prime minister, or a former prime minister, in the officially-recognised hierarchy, ranks nowhere near the President, Deputy President or retired presidents.
From Mr Duale’s argument, the operative rank is ‘president’ and therefore no mere minister, even if ranked as prime, should dream of accessing the top VIP facilities.
The argument advanced by Mr Duale would be laughable, but for the fact that he was not demonstrating his own ever-vacuous reasoning, but the official view of the government.
What the government forgot is that the title prime minister is not exclusive to Mr Odinga, but to many leaders from around the world, who will sooner or later be paying official visits to Kenya.
The Majority Leader was actually echoing, with suitable embellishment, a letter written last month by the Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia warning airport officials against allowing unauthorised persons to use VIP lounges.
Mr Kimemia did not have to mention Mr Odinga by name, but that he appended a list of ranks of ‘authorised’ VIP’s, who included the former presidents but not the former prime minister, was enough evidence who was targeted.
Airport officials, under threat of summary dismissal, got the message and acted on the letter.
Now, this rally should be no big deal under any circumstances. If President Kenyatta’s minions insist on infantile displays of power, it might have been better for Mr Odinga to stand above the useless din and ignore them.
Mr Odinga’s aides need not have gone to histrionics reminiscent of the nusu mkeka affair.
However, there is an important principle at play. The VIP lounge affair reminds us that Kenya’s government policy is sometimes being driven by an amazingly petty and vindictive mindset.
Leaders at any level deserve a modicum of respect even if one disagrees with them.
That is why, when President Kibaki took power in 2003, he had no problem assenting to President Moi’s retirement benefits, and privileges such as security and staff. He even allowed him to remain in the government house he had used since his days as Vice-President.
In retirement now, President Kibaki too enjoys all the perks due to him.
Granted that Mr Odinga is not retired yet, but there is still no reason to hound him and humiliate him. The elements who so fiercely opposed his status as President Kibaki’s co-principal on the coalition government are clearly intent on keeping him in his place even after that shot-gun marriage served out its term. Treating a vanquished election rival so is primitive behaviour unbecoming of modern democracy.
One must wonder why backward elements in the Uhuru Kenyatta regime hate Mr Odinga with such venom. Or is there something they instinctively fear in having him still around as an opposition leader?
After the disputed electoral victory and the Supreme Court decision, they were all over with their new ‘accept and move on’ creed. But it is clear now they are the ones refusing to accept and move on.

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