opinionBy Jerry Okungu
We all watched it on television. Hillary Clinton arrived at JKIA to an almost empty airport. Apparently most of the aircraft had been cleared from a section of the runway where her plane would park. On hand to receive her were the American diplomats accredited to Kenya.
And as is customary, the former First Lady majestically walked alone from the aircraft on to the runway where her countrymen and women received her and whisked her into her official limo that raced straight to State House where the President of Kenya was waiting with his Cabinet.
This scenario was diplomatic disaster number one. Under normal circumstances, Kenya's Foreign Minister and possibly the Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary and at least the Chief of Protocol would have been at the airport to meet her, take her to the VIP lounge and brief her on the protocol arrangements, who to meet and when during her stay in the country. Apparently this basic manual was not followed.
In an ideal situation, the US Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs should have had a substantive meeting with her counterpart who in turn should brief the Head of State of the gist of the bilateral discussions. After that, upon the guest's request, the Chief of Protocol can take the guest to State House merely for the guest to pay a courtesy call depending on whether the Head of State has a window in his busy diary. It is the kind of meeting that should take less than ten minutes.
In this sad tale, our government allowed Americans to set the agenda and dictate protocol arrangements. Even the meeting at State House was embarrassingly condescending. We allowed Clinton to behave like a Head of State. She sat across the table directly opposite the President and curiously, she was given a chair equal to that of the President! How could we allow this to happen in our country? Would a Kenyan Foreign Minister be accorded the same treatment at the White House by an American president? How many times have African leaders visited the USA and never gone past an Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs?
The one incident that has pissed off many Kenyans is the way Clinton reportedly talked tough to the President of Kenya, bordering on reading the riot act should Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto have their names on the ballot paper come the next general elections. Although the meeting with the President, just like the subsequent ones with the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice and the IEBC was behind closed doors, still word was leaked to the media detailing what Clinton said and the responses from the Head of State, Minister for Justice and Foreign Affairs Minister. Yes, it was reported that Clinton made it abundantly clear that if the two ICC suspects were allowed to run for elections then it would not be business as usual between the USA and Kenya.
Indeed as a Kenyan, I would never take kindly any statement from a foreign government that tends to infringe on our sovereignty as an independent state. Who we elect and how we elect as our leaders is our business. We have a robust integrity clause to take care of bandits trying to smuggle themselves into public offices. We have a competent judiciary ready to take on criminals and fraudsters masquerading as people of integrity. For this reason, foreign governments must be told through the official government channel that we are a functioning state with laws to govern us. And certainly we do not need the Clintons of this world to tell us who to elect, how and when.
Before Clinton landed on our soil, the public was made aware of a series of meetings she would have with key government officials. She would first meet President Kibaki, then Prime Minister Raila Odinga, to be followed by the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice and lastly the IEBC Commissioners in that order. This line up of meetings must indeed have been approved by the Foreign Ministry in consultations with the State Department and the American Embassy in Nairobi. At the stage of planning her itinerary, the Kenya Government should have objected to many of these meetings if GK officials found them fishy. Nobody raised any objections.
However, knowing how Americans are very particular about protocol and the security of their top officials, names of Kenyan officials to attend these meetings at every stage must have been submitted to the American security detail. And they would never deviate from that list come rain or shine.
Therefore Kenya's Foreign Minister who is now being cited as the victim of a American diplomatic coup should have been briefed that if he was not supposed to be present during the Clinton's visit to the Judiciary, he would not be allowed intoWilly Mutunga's chambers-not because the CJ would not want him to but because the list approved by the Americans didn't include Prof. Ongeri. And in any case, by the time Hilary had left the Prime Minister's office, Ongeri should have been too busy to follow Hilary any further. That would have been the job of the Chief of Protocol to take over and even take her to the Nairobi National Park.
I remember the days of Eva Muraya, Margaret Reuben and Frost Josiah as Kenya's premier Chiefs of Protocol. In those days foreign dignitaries knew their place. No foreign dignitary would find himself in State House without prior consent and planning by the C.o.P! This fiasco must be a wakeup call. We have to rebuild our protocol office once more to stem a similar chaotic situation.