What you need to know:
- Vanguard Africa, a non-profit NGO co-founded by a top operative in US presidential campaigns, also offered to provide partisan political advice to Mr Odinga, according to a letter to the Orange Democratic Movement leader on file with the US Department of Justice.
- The invitation to Mr Odinga was filed in accordance with a US law requiring disclosure of work done by lobbyists in the US on behalf of governments and political figures in other countries.
- Vanguard Africa, which describes itself as a pro-democracy advocacy group, is mainly seeking to promote free, fair and non-violent elections in regard to Kenya, Mr Smith said.
In New York
A Washington-based nongovernmental organisation recently arranged for Kenyan presidential hopeful Raila Odinga to hold a round of talks with State Department officials and leaders of think tanks with a focus on Africa.
Vanguard Africa, a non-profit NGO co-founded by a top operative in US presidential campaigns, also offered to provide partisan political advice to Mr Odinga, according to a letter to the Orange Democratic Movement leader on file with the US Department of Justice.
“During our time together in Washington,” Vanguard Africa principals told Mr Odinga, “we hope to have a collaborative and open discussion about your campaign, current challenges and the real prospects for success.”
A key element of the talks, the group's executives added, would focus on “uniting a centralised opposition campaign to maximise the opportunity for electoral success.”
“We feel that a cohesive opposition coalition provides you the best opportunity to both win at the polls and advance your legacy as a transcendent leader on the African continent,” the Vanguard team said in the letter.
The invitation to Mr Odinga was filed in accordance with a US law requiring disclosure of work done by lobbyists in the US on behalf of governments and political figures in other countries.
“Recently,” the letter noted, “Vanguard Africa supported the winning opposition coalition in the Gambia, ultimately headed by now-President Adama Barrow, and we feel that this model of success can be replicated in Kenya.”
In an interview on Thursday, Vanguard Africa executive director Jeffrey Smith sought to downplay his organisation's efforts in support of Mr Odinga's candidacy.
“We had a limited engagement in Washington with Mr Odinga,” Mr Smith said. “That's the entire relationship.”
He noted that Vanguard Africa, which is funded by private donors, has not received payments from Mr Odinga. “We're not a mercenary organisation,” Mr Smith said.
Vanguard Africa, which describes itself as a pro-democracy advocacy group, is mainly seeking to promote free, fair and nonviolent elections in regard to Kenya, Mr Smith related. It aims to help achieve that goal by highlighting the importance to the United States of the August presidential poll in Kenya, he explained. “We're raising these issues in Washington at a time when Africa figures very low on the foreign policy radar,” he noted.
But Mr Smith, an experienced human-rights advocate whose Vanguard advisors include Kenyan anti-corruption John Githongo, added that his NGO “is open” to conducting political strategy sessions with ODM and the National Super Alliance.
The NGO currently does not have representatives on the ground in Kenya, but would consider “doing substantive work there,” Mr Smith added.
Vanguard Africa supports leaders who exhibit “an unwavering personal commitment to transparency, democratic governance, and free, fair, transparent elections,” the organisation declares on its website. It also says it favours African politicians with “a distinguished record of public service, accountability and ethical leadership.”
Asked whether Vanguard Africa might also support President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Smith said, “My personal opinion is that he is not the type of leader we want to be involved with.” As probable points of disqualification, he pointed to Mr Kenyatta's indictment by the International Criminal Court and allegations of pervasive government corruption.
Vanguard Africa, launched 18 months ago, became involved with Mr Odinga through an introduction by Eddy Gicheru Oketch, a Senate candidate in Migori County and founder of Ongoza, an NGO that assists young entrepreneurs.
Mr Smith has also known Mr Githongo for several years.
Vanguard Africa co-founder Joe Trippi, who took part in meetings with Mr Odinga, has worked since 1980 for a series of US Democratic Party presidential candidates.
Mr Trippi served as a campaign consultant in 2008 for Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change. The subsequent election led to formation of a unity government in Zimbabwe, with Mr Tsvangirai serving as Prime Minister from 2009 to 2013.
Vanguard offered political advice and public relations expertise to opposition figures in the run-up to last year's presidential election in Gambia. The group was involved in efforts to forge a unified opposition to long-time ruler Yahya Jammeh. He was ultimately defeated by Adama Barrow, who had emerged as the leading opposition candidate.
Mr Smith noted that his organisation had also supported Fadumo Dayib, the first woman to run for president of Somalia. Ms Dayib dropped out of the race, however, due to her stated concern that the voting would be rigged.
During Mr Odinga's March 13-16 visit to Washington, Vanguard Africa arranged for him to meet with Peter Barlerin, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Africa bureau. Mr Odinga also conferred with Randy Berry, a State Department official focused on human rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender individuals.
The ODM chief held talks as well with former US Ambassador to Kenya Johnnie Carson and with J Peter Pham, head of the Africa unit at the Atlantic Council think tank and a reported candidate for the State Department's top Africa post in the Trump administration.
This story has been updated as an earlier version contained some errors which had been introduced during editing. We are sorry.