, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 19 – Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said he has no difficulty simply being referred to as ‘Raila Odinga’ after mourners at the burial of Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General David Okuta’s experienced difficulties with his title.
While some speakers comfortably referred to him as the former prime minister, others struggled with his title referring to him as the retired prime minister and with Okuta’s widow Belvina even going as far as erroneously referring to him the president.
“His Excellency the President of Kenya, Honourable Raila Odinga,” Belvina said as she acknowledged the dignitaries attending her husband’s burial among who was President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Belvina however quickly apologised on realising her mistake, saying “sorry for that mishap.”
But when it was his turn to address the mourners, Odinga made light of the moment.
“I’ve seen people having difficulties addressing me as retired, former… I am available, I’ve just moved on. So don’t have difficulties addressing me, I am Raila Amolo Odinga.”
President Kenyatta himself at one point erroneously referred to Odinga as the ‘Prime Minister’ saying: “We need one another, and as the Prime Minister said, it is not a situation of us versus them, the government versus the unions. It is us together sitting, and working in the same direction with the realisation that we share a common destiny and we need to be able to work together.”
Kenyatta’s message of reconciliation nonetheless appeared sincere with the president going out of his way on several instances to engage the former premier at Okuta’s burial; even leaning out of his chair.
Odinga also appeared to welcome the olive branch Kenyatta held out by saying that although he also contested and lost the presidency to Mwai Kibaki in 2007, he went on to work with him.
“We want to reconcile our country and move on. It is the most important thing. We have had that competition but as the wise men say, the breaking of a cooking spoon does not necessarily bring an end to the cooking process,” Odinga said.
It was the first time the two leaders were seen together at a public forum following the March 4 general election but as the Presidential Press Service emailed pictures of the momentous occasion to newsrooms, they went on to prove that old habits die hard with the subject line of one of their emails reading: “President Kibaki-late KNUT Sec-General funeral pic.”
Needless to say, the immediate former president was not in attendance at Friday’s burial.