Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Raila defends his stand on Zimbabwe

Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Saturday stood by his criticism of African leaders and their silence on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, saying that was his personal view.

The PM, who arrived from an official trip to South Africa, said the government had yet to take a position because the issue had not been discussed by the Cabinet. Said Mr Odinga: "What I said was personal and does not reflect the position of the government."

The PM made the controversial statement early this week while addressing the World Economic Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. He publicly criticised African leaders for their handling of the Zimbabwean electoral crisis. The country will be going for a run-off in the next three weeks. Mr Odinga had taken issue with the leaders' hands-off approach, saying this had exacerbated the situation in that country and may have contributed to the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa. "It is a grave indictment on our leadership that an African country can hold elections and fail to announce results for one month yet no country raises a finger. We must learnt to own our problems and take responsibility," Mr Odinga had said. "How do you conduct a re-run when you do not even have the results?" the PM asked. The run-off will be between President Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change(MDC).

It is estimated that South Africa hosts over five million Zimbabweans, most of them fleeing the hyperinflation that has visited their country during Mr Mugabe's reign. They were some of the targets of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

The Heads of State and Government were Mr Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Mr John Kufuor of Ghana, Dr Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi and Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza. Mr Odinga, who is the ODM leader, repeated his statement on Mr Mugabe saying the era of civil wars in Africa was no more. "Why should it be that an election is held and results released after one month? Is this democracy?" the PM asked, and regretted that the opposition and the media in Zimbabwe were continually harassed, yet the country was preparing for a run-off poll.

Mr Odinga, who was addressing the media at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport soon after his arrival, challenged African leaders to discuss African issues frankly and openly. He said that most of the current crop of African leaders was forward looking. At the same time, the Prime Minister announced that the 2010 World Economic Forum would be held in Nairobi for the first time as per his request to the organisers. Next year's Forum will be held in South Africa. The Prime Minister had led a high-powered Kenyan delegation to the three-day World Economic Forum on Africa. He was accompanied by ministers Mutula Kilonzo(Nairobi Metropolitan Development); Samuel Poghisio(Information and Communications), Kipkalya Kones(Roads) and Najib Balala (Tourism) as well as chief executives of leading firms in the country. The PM said Kenya was the main focus at the Forum because of the post-election crisis. Mr Odinga described the Forum as "a resounding success."

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