Monday, November 21, 2011
By VITALIS KIMUTAI
The fight for Diaspora votes appears to be gaining pace as Kenyans head into an election year with a Constitution that guarantees citizens leaving abroad the right to cast their ballots.
Among those already seen strengthening links with Kenyans living in foreign lands are Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.
The PM has retained strong networks in the Diaspora going back to the campaigns for the ill-fated 2007 elections, when his presidential bid was partly funded by contributions from supporters living and working in countries like the US, Canada and United Kingdom.
As the PM was on an official trip to Israel last week, where he sealed a security deal for the Government, the VP was also busy in nearby Cyprus a few days later. Sources close to Raila said he had managed to develop a close working relationship with key leaders around the world.
"He can today reach out to very influential leaders in almost all powerful western counties and that is a hallmark for a serious presidential contender," said a close ally.
Apart from developing their profiles, it is whispered that the four main contenders for the presidency are also developing strong networks outside Kenya.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Eldoret North MP William Ruto, Assistant Minister Peter Kenneth, Gichugu MP and Narc Kenya chairperson Martha Karua, Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa and former Foreign Affairs Minister Raphael Tuju have also sought to cast their nets beyond Kenya’s borders.
Raila and Musyoka are the most widely travelled leaders in the Grand Coalition Government, which has seen them go to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and African countries.
Both have in their trips sought to cut deals on behalf of the country, with varying success.
Raila was in Israel, where he met both the president and the prime minister who agreed to support Kenya in beefing its homeland security through a memorandum of understanding signed at a resort on Mt Zion in Jerusalem.
The PM also won the consent of Israel to help build an irrigation scheme in Turkana and to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the country.
"Raila was in London months ago where he met Prince Charles. He was also the first African leader to meet Prime Minister David Cameron after his election," said a Cabinet minister allied to the PM’s party, the Orange Democratic Movement.
Prince Charles is helping restore Lake Naivasha through the Imarisha Naivasha programme, which is being coordinated by the PM’s office.
Raila has tried to use new tools of diplomacy including environmental conservation, climate change and trade, as he moves strategically to build his global profile and stand out as a statesman.
He has also been to the White House, where he met Vice President Joe Biden and secured US support for Kenya’s efforts to restore order in Somalia.
As a result of the PM’s strong push on climate change, France and Kenya last year hosted the Paris-Nairobi initiative on clean energy that brought together 40 African nations.
Raila was last year appointed by the African Union (AU) to mediate in the Ivory Coast, where he secured landing rights for Kenya Airways in Lagos, Luanda and Angola in the process.
Mr Ruto also travelled extensively when he was the Minister for Agriculture, and later Higher Education. More recently, he embarked on regional travels with Wamalwa.
Kalonzo has lately been to Malaysia, India, Namibia, and United Kingdom, where he met Kenyans and used the opportunity to push for donor support for the country.
While in the UK, the VP opened a Party of National Unit (PNU) coordinating office for Europe before heading to Cyprus on the invitation of President Dimistris Christofias.
Musyoka used the opportunity to impress upon Christofias to present Kenya’s case against Al Shabaab to the European Union, and secured scholarships for 60 university students, in addition to the 28 aided by the Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation, to study in Cyprus.
The prestigious Limkokwing University of Technology also agreed to set up a campus in Nairobi, which would be the second in Africa after another one in Botswana.
Musyoka was accompanied by Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi, Assistant Minister Kabando wa Kabando, and Mathira MP Ephraim Maina.
"The VP was in India recently where he convinced the 47 sea ports operating there to attend an investment forum in Kenya to enable investors to explore trade opportunities in the Lamu Sea Port," said his spokesperson, Mr Kaplich Barsito.
He said Kalonzo also met officials and members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in India and Malaysia, and asked them to invest in Kenya.
"Some of the trips to meet presidents and heads of various states across the globe have been delegated by President Kibaki to the Vice President," Barsito said on telephone yesterday.
He was quick to emphasise that the VP’s trips abroad were public engagements.
Kangundo MP Johnstone Muthama said that rather than use such forums as fundraising events, the VP stuck to his itinerary in a bid to elevate Kenya’s diplomatic engagement at the international level.
On instructions from the President, Musyoka also led a futile diplomatic shuttle early this year to seek support for Kenya’s bid to get the International Criminal Court (ICC) to refer the crimes against humanity cases facing six Kenyans at The Hague, Netherlands to the local judicial system.
But Muthama said: "As a result of the diplomatic engagements by the VP, which were frowned upon by others, the UN Security Council now appreciates Kenya’s position because we are not a failed State."
Uhuru’s engagement with foreign governments, though both intensive and extensive, has been more within the country than abroad.
In fact, one of the longest periods he is remembered to have been out of the country was recently, when he travelled to The Hague for the confirmation of charges hearings in the ICC case.
Mr Munyori Buku, who is Uhuru’s Director of Communications, yesterday told The Standard the Finance Minister does not need to travel out of Kenya to seal development deals, as such matters are part of his daily routine at his Treasury office.
"Quite often, Uhuru by virtue of his position as the Finance Minister, holds meetings with delegations from the World Bank, European Union (EU) International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other development partners funding various programmes in the country," said Munyori.
"In fact at Treasury there is a desk that deals with international leaders and foreign relations. You will remember that the IMF mission left the country recently after a meeting with Uhuru," Munyori added to illustrate his point.
Reliable sources confided in The Standard that in the search for support from the 2.5 million Kenyans in the Diaspora, Uhuru’s friends and supporters have opened offices in Los Angeles, New York and the United Kingdom with fully operational secretariats.
"The volunteers have set up offices using their own resources and they are meeting once a month to deal with issues on recruitment and mobilisation, which they communicate to Uhuru," an MP close to the Gatundu South MP told The Standard on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Another secretariat is being set up in South Africa, Australia and the Middle East, according to the MP.