State visits by foreign dignitaries can be full of diplomatic gaffes and drama.
When retired President Kibaki visited America in October 2003, the year he assumed power, his health had not improved after the car accident he suffered prior to the 2012 general elections.
‘Obako’ thus introduced his entourage by one and the same name without realising, notes historian Daniel Branch in Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, published in 2013.
Such behind the scene shenanigans will most likely also play out during President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya, as diplomatic horselaughs are never in short supply.
Remember when US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, jetted here to read the riot act to ‘Obako’ and ‘Baba’ at the height of the post-poll chaos in 2008?
Moses Wetangula, then Foreign Affairs Minister, thought Condi was his equal, seeing as it is both were in ‘international relations.’
‘Weta’ was shoved aside alongside veep Kalonzo Musyoka, who was left complaining about the uncouth treatment yet “Kenya was a sovereign state!”
It wasn’t the first time Kalonzo was receiving a diplomatic short shrift.
South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela jetted here en-route to Egypt on Kenyatta Day in 1997. Kalonzo was Foreign Affairs Minister.
But red carpet roll and all, Mandela kept Kalonzo waiting alongside South Africa’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Griffiths Memela, and later flew without meeting them as he was napping “after a long tiring journey!”
Mandela had ways, by default or design, of embarrassing the powers that be.
In July 1990, the future President visited Kenya, wife Winnie in tow, five months after he was released after 27 years of ‘cooling porridge’ in Robben Island prison.
By the way, did you know that the makaburu ‘released’ Mandela from prison twice in 1987, taking him round Jo’burg for coffee, but few South Africans recognised him?
Well, that is what historian Martin Meredith notes in, State of Africa, published in 2011. After his ‘coffee break,’ Mandela would then be spirited back to prison, and the yarn about seeing South African streets for the first time in February 11, 1990, might not be true!
Anyway, while in Kenya, the three things that interested him: Visiting freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi’s grave, meeting his widow, Mukami and having a one-on-one with freedom fighter General China (Waruhiu Itote), were turned down.
Never mind, Mandela had told a public rally at the Kasarani Sports Complex, that Kimathi and General China were “candles in my long and hard war against injustice.”
Nabobs in government were embarrassed at Mandela’s request.
See, Kimathi’s grave had remained unmarked since his hanging in 1958. All Mandela’s three requests were rejected as not being part of his itinerary.
The Mandelas were livid as they left for the OAU (Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to Afrcan Union or AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Mandela only met Kimathi’s family 15 years later during another visit in 2003. And oh! There was Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who brought Kenyatta a white pet dog as a gift during his state visit that Jamhuri Day in 1964.
Kenyatta loved livestock. Not pets! So, much so that he admired milk cheque payments from KCC, until they expired!
“See this,” UK’s old guy would often say while showing the cheques, as Duncan Ndegwa recalls in his memoirs of 2009, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles. “This is money from milk, who said Kenyatta is not a farmer?” he would say.
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