- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Waiting for Obama

The most coveted seats for President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural parade might be in the grandstands outside the White House, but the warmest place in town with the best view belongs to the U.S. neighbor to the north.

Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson invited a select number of guests to the Canadian Embassy to watch the Jan. 20 parade from a sixth-floor office with a picture window on Pennsylvania Avenue. Hardier guests can peer from the rooftop terrace. Canada also is hosting an outdoors reception at the embassy, the only diplomatic mission between the Capitol and the White House.

Mr. Wilson is a little concerned about getting to his party on time, embassy spokesman Tristan Landry said. Like other ambassadors, Mr. Wilson will attend the swearing-in at the Capitol, but, because of street closures and security, he might have to walk the half-mile back to the embassy.

“For Canada, our most important international relationship is always with the United States,” Mr. Landry said. “As neighbors and closest allies, our two countries share a special bond which we will celebrate at the Embassy of Canada on Inauguration Day.”

For many ambassadors, the swearing-in ceremony and a ball will be the only formal inaugural events they will attend. However, African diplomats are planning a big reception to honor Mr. Obama’s African heritage through his Kenyan father.

Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djibouti, the longest-serving foreign envoy in Washington, marveled at the coincidence that he, as an African ambassador, will be leading the diplomatic corps to the inauguration of the first black U.S. president.

He called Mr. Obama’s election “one of those miracles that do happen.”

Kenyan Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego might be the busiest ambassador as he prepares for three days of celebration to salute Mr. Obama.

At noon on Jan. 18, he will hold a private reception for the host committee of the annual salute to Martin Luther King. In the afternoon, the Kenyan Embassy and the Kenya Christian Fellowship in America will host a public prayer service from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Northwest.

On Jan. 19,the Boys Choir of Kenya will perform at an inaugural gala of the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, which supports wildlife programs in Africa. The choir also will sing at a Kenyan Embassy public reception on Inauguration Day from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Northwest and that evening at a private black-tie ball hosted by the Kenyan Embassy, the African Diplomatic Corps, the Corporate Council on Africa, the African Union Mission and the D.C. African Professionals.

Ambassador Kwame Bawuah Edusei of Ghana said the African envoys are excited that the son of an African will be the next president of the United States.

“It is a euphoric feeling. It’s such a good feeling,” he said. “We want to help and make [the inauguration] memorable.”

Mr. Edusei, who will be attending his first inauguration as ambassador, said the January weather will not dampen his enthusiasm.

“I can’t wait, irrespective of the weather,” he said.

Mr. Edusei added that the Obama administration has a high hurdle to meet after President Bush, who is popular in Africa for massive increases in AIDS funding and other programs for the continent.

“The Bush administration set a record in relations, and we will accept nothing less,” he said.

Speaking for his fellow African ambassadors, he added, “We are very excited, and you can let the world know.”

Ambassador Chang Heng Chee of Singapore, who arrived in Washington in 1996, is looking forward to attending her fourth inauguration.

“We ambassadors will be sitting there watching this historic moment,” she said. “It will be freezing, but we will enjoy it.”

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