Jubilee/Cord political tensions spill over to Boston dinner

Tension between Jubilee and Cord spilled over to the United States last Saturday when government representatives boycotted an event to honour Kenya’s marathon runners.

Sports, Culture and The Arts Secretary Hassan Wario, who was listed as the chief guest at the annual “Dinner with Champions” and Kenya’s acting ambassador to Washington DC Jean Kamau reportedly stayed away because of the presence of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is on a study tour in the US.

The event was in honour of Kenyan athletes participating in the prestigious Boston Marathon held on April 21. Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won the women’s race while Wilson Chebet and Frankline Chepkwony were second and third respectively in the men’s race won by American Meb Keflezighi.

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The “Dinner with Champions” party held in downtown Boston every year and co-hosted by the Kenyan embassy before the marathon, has become one of the most highly anticipated and respected events among Kenyans living in the US and international fans. It also acts as a morale booster to the elite athletes.

“This year it has been vindeo and ndrama,” said Mr Wilson Wahome, the main organiser of the dinner, using a popular expression to describe a dramatic event.

Briefing the Sunday Nation soon after the April 19 event, Mr Wahome said that in retrospect he was not surprised that the government officials had decided to snub the event.

“From the way the embassy has been reacting since you guys (Sunday Nation) ran that story about Raila leading the Boston Marathon celebrations, I’m not too shocked that Ambassador Kamau gave the event wide berth. She was clearly not happy,” he said.

Mr Wahome said even though the event was sold out, most of those who attended were disappointed that government officials stayed away.

“What I came to realise while working on this is that the name Raila Odinga sends chills down the spine of many people in government. Some treat him not like a former Prime Minister but as an enemy of the country. It’s absurd because in the US people treat such leaders with respect,” he said.

Mr Wahome says his plan was not to have Mr Odinga in the printed programme but to allow him to present athlete Lorna Kiplagat with a lifetime achievement award.

But his balancing act did not seem to have impressed the officials. When the doors opened that Saturday evening and the elite athletes arrived 30 minutes later, there was no government official to receive them.

Soon, Mr Odinga, accompanied by Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho and Senator Hassan Omar made their way into the venue. Unaware of the tension caused by the presence of Mr Odinga, the elite team members appeared happy to be around their fans and allowed people to take pictures.

When the former PM stood to honour Ms Kiplagat and the team, he joked that he was “Kenya’s ambassador in residence” before wishing the athletes well and promising to cheer them during the race.

Mr Wario and Ms Kamau did not immediately respond to inquiries from the Sunday Nation, but many of those who attended the dinner were disappointed they gave politics more weight than patriotism.

“This was meant to be a day when we as Kenyans all come together despite our political differences to honour our runners,” said Mr Sam Simiyu, a Kenyan resident of New York City.

-Nation

Former PM Raila Odinga (right) prepares to give his speech at Morehouse College, Atlanta on April 10, 2014. Photo/Courtesy

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