Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga was invited to the US as a “statesman and a representative of the democratisation trend in Africa,” the head of his hosting institution said on Thursday.
Ambassador Charles Stith, director of the African Presidential Centre at Boston University, lashed back at Kenyan critics of the invitation he had extended to Mr Odinga.
The former US envoy to Tanzania referred in an interview to comments by Kirinyaga Central MP David Gitari who suggested it was inappropriate for Mr Odinga to be included in a programme intended for African former heads of state.
“I hope he’s more informed about other things than what we do here,” Ambassador Stith said of Mr Gitari. “He doesn’t understand what our centre is and does.”
Rather than criticising the centre for inviting Mr Odinga, members of Kenya’s ruling party “should take this as badge of honour,” Ambassador Stith declared. “Being selected to participate in a programme as prestigious as ours speaks well for the country.”
(Read: Raila’s trip to US defended)
In addition to offering scholarly residencies to retired African heads of state who were democratically elected, the Boston University centre sponsors programmes involving current and former heads of government, Ambassador Stith said.
The centre also collaborates with leaders of the private sector in Africa and with universities in Tanzania, Ghana and South Africa.
Mr Odinga qualifies for centre sponsorship because he is well placed to address the current state of democracy in Africa, Ambassador Stith added.
He noted that the former prime minister had run for election as president a year ago and had “accepted the judgment of the court” upholding Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in that race.
During his stay in Boston, Mr Odinga will be taking part in an oral history project conducted by the African Presidential Centre. It involves videotaped interviews running between 20 and 30 hours, Ambassador Stith said.
The head of the Orange Democratic Movement will also be speaking at various venues around the United States on a centre-sponsored tour that continues until May.
This is Mr Odinga’s second visit to the Boston University centre in the past six months. He spoke there last October.