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Interview: Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga

Despite contrary evidence, Odinga claims Kenya's relations with the White House are cordial.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga. (Aynsley Floyd/GlobalPost)

CHICAGO — It was a study in contrasts for a once stalwart American ally: There was Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Barack Obama’s hometown of Chicago last Thursday. He had been invited to speak to a business group by the city’s Council on Global Affairs.

On that very same day, as Odinga was talking up the future of Kenya’s economy in the Windy City, Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete was at the Oval Office meeting with President Obama — the first African head of state to do so.

Odinga’s U.S. visit also included a stop at the University of Buffalo to address the law school, but a meeting with Obama in Washington wasn’t in the cards. It appeared to be a snub to the Kenyan leader.

Since Obama’s inauguration in January, Kenya has enjoyed the status as the country where the new U.S. president’s father was born. Odinga himself recently claimed he’s Obama’s cousin, though that has not been officially confirmed.

But all is not well with Kenya’s “special relationship” with the Obama administration. Not only was Odinga not welcomed in Washington, even to meet a few officials, but a few days before Odinga’s U.S. trip, Obama announced that his first visit to Africa as president would be not to Kenya, but to Ghana, a country that recently held successful elections and had a peaceful transfer of power.

Members of GlobalPost Passport can watch the full interview with Prime Minister Odinga. If you’re not a Passport member, you can find more information here.

So where does that put Kenya, a longtime East Africa power player and U.S. ally? Not in the White House; more like the dog house.

Right now, Odinga admits Kenya has some work to do to get back into Washington’s good graces. He says the relationship is “fairly cordial.”

“I don’t think our relationships have deteriorated in any kind of extent,” he told GlobalPost in a sit-down interview during his Chicago stop. He says Kenya is being advised by its “good friend” the U.S. to “increase the pace [of reforms], otherwise there’s danger coming.”