ODM Leader Raila Odinga during a past media briefing. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Think-tank confirms organising Raila’s recent tour to the US
A Washington-based non-governmental organisation recently arranged for Opposition leader Raila Odinga to hold a round of talks with State Department officials and leaders of think-tanks with a focus on Africa.
Vanguard Africa, a non-profit NGO co-founded by a top operative in US presidential campaigns, also offered to provide partisan political advice to Mr Odinga, according to a letter to the Orange Democratic Movement leader on file with the US Department of Justice.
“During our time together in Washington,” Vanguard Africa principals told Mr Odinga in the letter, “We hope to have a collaborative and open discussion about your campaign, current challenges and the real prospects for success.”
A key element of the talks, the group’s executives added, would focus on “uniting a centralised opposition campaign to maximise the opportunity for electoral success”.
“We feel that a cohesive opposition coalition provides you the best opportunity to both win at the polls and advance your legacy as a transcendent leader on the African continent,” the Vanguard team said in the letter.
The invitation to Mr Odinga was filed in accordance with a US law requiring disclosure of work done by lobbyists in the US on behalf of governments and political figures in other countries.
“Recently,” the letter noted, “Vanguard Africa supported the winning opposition coalition in the Gambia, ultimately headed by now-President Adama Barrow, and we feel that this model of success can be replicated in Kenya.”
In an interview on Thursday, Vanguard Africa executive director Jeffrey Smith sought to downplay his organisation’s efforts in support of Mr Odinga’s candidacy.
“We had a limited engagement in Washington with Mr Odinga,” Mr Smith said. “That’s the entire relationship.”
He noted that Vanguard Africa, which is funded by private donors, has not received payments from Mr Odinga. “We’re not a mercenary organisation,” Mr Smith said.
Vanguard Africa, which describes itself as a pro-democracy advocacy group, is mainly seeking to promote free, fair and non-violent elections in regard to Kenya, Mr Smith said.
It aims to help achieve that goal by highlighting the importance to the United States of the August presidential poll in Kenya, he explained.
“We’re raising these issues in Washington at a time when Africa figures very low on the foreign policy radar,” he noted.
But Mr Smith, an experienced human rights advocate whose Vanguard advisors include Kenyan anti-corruption crusader John Githongo, added that his NGO “is open” to conducting political strategy sessions with ODM and the National Super Alliance.
Vanguard said the decision to recruit and fund political candidates in Kenya and across Africa is premised on the fact that “visionary leaders often lack the resources and know-how to successfully compete against entrenched political forces.”
Asked whether Vanguard Africa might also support President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Smith said, “My personal opinion is that he is not the type of leader we want to be involved with.”
The organisation says it supports leaders who exhibit “an unwavering personal commitment to transparency and democratic governance.”