The Washington Times - January 15, 2009, 04:17PM

African ambassadors are in a panic about their inauguration ball in Arlington because all bridges to Virginia will be closed and they expect 1,200 guests to attend a festival designed to highlight President Barack Obama’s Kenyan heritage.

“This is a major issue,” Ambassador Roble Olhaye, the dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, said Thursday. “I don’t know how we will get there. This is a gigantic blockage.”


Mr. Olhaye, who as the most senior foreign ambassador in Washington is also dean of the entire Diplomatic Corps, is flaberghasted by the Secret Service’s desicision to close all bridges, except those spanning the Potomac River on the Beltway.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge that crosses into Alexandria and the American Legion Bridge that crosses into McLean are miles from the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel, which would be easily reached if the 14th Street Bridge remained open.

“If you have a way to get there, I’d like to know,” he told Embassy Row. “All roads are closed. All bridges are closed. Do they expect us to walk or ride bicycles?”

Ambassadors can get through the security cordons because official cars will be allowed to cross the bridges. But most of the guests are not diplomats and most of them live in Washington, Mr. Olhaye said.

He cringed at the image of ladies in expensive ball gowns riding Metro subway trains, which are expected to be crowded. Taxis are an option, but they will be in great demand by guests attending dozens of other balls in Washington.

The Pan-African Inaugural Celebration — sponsored by the African Diplomatic Corps, the Republic of Kenya, the African Union, African Professionals in Washington and the Corporate Council on Africa — was designed to focus attention on the homeland of Mr. Obama’s father.

“We consider this to be the most important ball,” Mr. Olhaye said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison at