In May, a strange thing happened that almost passed unnoticed to many. But the health scare that befell National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential candidate Raila Odinga in Mombasa two days ago has got us reflecting on the leader’s recent history.
The former prime minister left the country to speak at a conference at an Israeli university. Suna East MP Junet Mohammed was then quoted saying Mr Odinga would be away for one week.
It was not an official Israeli Government event, and no Israeli governmental or political leader was in attendance. Asked then, a source familiar with the conference said that usually the attendees are mainly those who have held power in the past and that it was not that highly regarded. Suffice to say that the person in charge of Kenyan affairs at the Israeli Foreign Ministry was not even present.
Nonetheless, Raila only spoke briefly on the first day of the two-day conference.
While Israel and Kenya maintain good relations, there are no Kenyan votes to be gained at such a crucial part of the election.
Which begs the obvious question as to why a presidential candidate with only a few weeks to go until the elections would spend a whole week abroad to attend a sparsely attended low-level conference? If the conference really was of great consequence then it would have been easy to fly in and out of Israel and return to Kenya in less than 48 hours, or even shorter.
Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere.
Israel is a well-known destination for medical tourism, which means when people travel to a country other than their own to obtain medical treatment. Israel has become a world leader in certain surgeries and medical procedures and tens of thousands of patients from even developed countries like the U.S. and from Europe travel to Israel for badly needed treatment.
It has been reported previously that Raila travels abroad for medical treatment, and it may not be just for its high quality services but also for its anonymity.
Only a few weeks before the trip, rumours swirled about the state of Raila’s health and he was admitted to hospital. There were conflicting reports provided over the hospital visit with sources close to Raila saying he was taken to Karen Hospital on Tuesday night after developing complications related to food poisoning. He stayed there overnight and was discharged on Wednesday morning when his condition supposedly improved.
However, his spokesman Dennis Onyango said that the NASA presidential candidate was taken to the Karen Hospital on Wednesday morning, treated for food poisoning and allowed to go home.
When pressed further about the event and subsequent contradictions Mr Onyango declined to confirm or deny the reports, only saying: “Let me not go into the details.”
Perhaps Odinga had to wait until he was confirmed as the NASA presidential candidate, which he was just days previously, before he could take off the time necessary for badly needed treatment.
Whatever the treatment was it obviously shielded a far greater ailment as Raila was once again rushed to hospital last night. While at Mombassa Airport on a flight back to Nairobi the ODM leader felt ill, and his NASA colleagues were obviously concerned enough to demand that he be rushed directly to Mombasa Hospital. Only days before the election, it must have been pretty serious for seasoned politicians to not take a gamble with Raila’s health even with all the possible fallout from the knowledge that a sick person is running for the presidency.
Now of course it is the right of any individual citizen not to give away their medical status or any ailments or diseases they might have. However, when you are running for the highest office and seek to be the most powerful person in Kenya, then the electorate needs to know the truth about the man they might vote for.
Odinga is 72 years old, seventeen years older than his opponent President Uhuru Kenyatta. He spent several years in prison which must have had an adverse effect on his health.
Additionally, in 2010, Raila underwent extremely serious head surgery at Nairobi Hospital. He would later reveal his anxious moments before the surgery, reminiscing about how he looked his wife Ida in the eye and told her that he was at peace with himself if that were to be his last day. That is how serious the procedure was.
We are about to embark on the most hectic part of the presidential campaign completely in the dark about one of the candidate’s’ medical condition. In many parts of the world, someone who seeks high office releases their medical records.
Spending a whole week out of the country possibly seeking medical help at the start of the campaign and now on the eve of elections being rushed to hospital is a worrying sign.