Railamania in AddisBy CHARLES OMONDI in Addis Ababa | Saturday, January 29 2011 at 16:29
Someone familiar with Kenyan politics could have easily mistaken the scene at the lobby of the second floor at the African Union headquarters on Friday evening for one in Kibera, the Nairobi political base of Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga. It could also have passed for one at his birthplace in Nyanza Province where the Premier commands support akin to religious fanaticism.
It was all jostling and shoving in the manner of everyone for himself and God for the rest. Every journalist wanted to hear and see the messenger.
Raila had just concluded briefing the AU Peace and Security Council on his mediation on the power struggles in Cote d’Ivoire. It was now the press’s turn to be briefed.
When he emerged from the closed-door meeting, Raila did not utter a word to the journalists waiting with their assorted communication gadgets. He instead chatted with fellow bigwigs, and when the anxious lot thought he was finally ready for them, he walked back to the briefing room where he had been before.
He re-emerged minutes later, but with a written statement firmly held in his hands. His media advisor Salim Lone was in toe.
The jostling for vantage positions heightened as the Kenyan leader made himself comfortable on the sofa. He had no advantage of a public address system, making his message barely audible. His low sitting position only made the situation worse.
'Who is this man?'
A quick tap on my shoulder by a woman journalist, whose media organisation I cannot recall, followed by a quick “who is this man?” confirmed to me that some of those shoving and pushing had no idea who the star attraction was.
AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, perhaps unaccustomed to the unruliness that had invaded the otherwise hallowed corridors, couldn’t take it any longer. “Call the security, the press should move downstairs,” barked Mr Ping. Neither Raila nor the battery of journalists seemed to take heed, and the former read his statement to the end.
He then dropped the bombshell: “I’m not answering any questions from journalists,” and then shot up and left.
Amazingly, only metres from where journalists were scrambling for a piece of Raila, was Kenya’s Internal Security minister and acting Foreign Minister George Saitoti, who discussed in low tones with fellow dignitaries. The journalists didn’t seem interested in the good old professor of mathematics at all.
As a Kenyan alive to the highly polarised nature of my country’s coalition government politics, I couldn’t help but wonder how the friends and foes of the two camps would have interpreted the situation that unfolded.
Then arrived Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan donning his trademark wide-brimmed hat and there was another mad rush for him, perhaps confirming that Raila Odinga is not the only star attraction at the 16th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, after all!
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