Prime minister of Kenya visits Malibu, announces presidential candidacy

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga spoke Sunday evening at the Malibu home of Amir Heshmatpour, middle. Odinga and others came to celebrate progress on a new treatment for sickle cell anemia developed by Dr. Yukata Niihara, right. Odinga also announced Sunday that he will run in Kenya’s upcoming presidential election. Knowles Adkisson / TMT

The prime minister made the announcement at a private event celebrating the launch of a new UCLA-developed medication for sickle cell anemia.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

A seaside residence near Trancas became the site Sunday for an unexpected commingling of African politics and Malibu philanthropy.

At a private Malibu party Sunday evening, Raila Amolo Odinga, the prime minister of Kenya, announced that he would run for president of Kenya during that country’s next governmental elections.

“I can announce here that I’m going to be a candidate for the presidency of Kenya,” Odinga said.

When asked by The Malibu Times if his speech Sunday was the first time he had declared his candidacy, Odinga said it was.

Odinga ran for the post in 2007, but narrowly lost amid allegations of voting improprieties. Odinga disputed the results and during ensuing riots more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced.

“I won elections last time three years ago. I was robbed of victory,” the prime minister said.

Odinga told Sunday’s gathering that reforms enacted since the previous elections would “ensure us that I will not be robbed again. I hope that I can bank on you for support in my campaign next year.”

Odinga’s surprising announcement came at a private Malibu party hosted by Amir Heshmatpour, where a guest list of 100 researchers, investors and entertainers had gathered to celebrate the launch of a new medication for sickle cell anemia. UCLA researcher Dr. Yukata Niihara has been developing the medication since 1992. It is currently in phase three of clinical trials and Niihara said he hopes to begin compassionate use of the drug in Kisumu, Kenya within a year.

Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary disease that destroys red blood cells and damages organs. It is most prevalent in people of African descent and is a major problem in Kenya and other African countries. Young children and adolescents are its main victims, and the disease is incurable.

Niihara explained to the audience that Kisumu was a natural place to begin compassionate use of the drug, since as many as one in 50 people there are born with the often fatal disease.

“[Kisumu is] where sickle cell is … most prevalent, not just in Kenya but in Africa … they have the highest number of sickle cell diseases, and what better place to start this project than Kisumu, Kenya,” Niihara said.

Niihara said the drug, an L-glutamine medicine that has not yet been given a commercial name, ameliorates the effects of sickle cell by reducing oxidation in red blood cells so they do not deform. He said it could prove especially effective in patients where the disease is diagnosed early.

Prime Minister Odinga told The Malibu Times the drug was “big news in Kenya … the best thing to happen this century.” Odinga said that sickle cell anemia can be managed, but often to little purpose.

“You find many ironies; you can invest a lot of resources in these children-treatment, education-but by the time they reach college, they will just die. So it is a hopeless investment, until now. This medicine is going to give them a chance to live a normal life.”

The Malibu event came a day after the launch of the U.S. chapter of the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation (JOOF). Named after Prime Minister Odinga’s father, the foundation addresses health and education issues in Kenya. The host of the Sunday event, Heshmatpour, said his company, AFH Holding & Advisory, would be partnering with JOOF to provide medical training in Kenya.