Capital FM (Nairobi)

28 November 2012

Kenya: Scheming Delays Naming of Envoys

Nairobi — The absence of Kenyan ambassadors in Nigeria, China, Belgium and Australia has been linked to political disagreements and tough choices the political class has to make to decide on the most suitable but preferred persons to represent the country's interests.

According to Macharia Munene who is an International Relations professor, ambassadorial appointments are about political preferences.

"There is a lot that goes into consideration when appointing the ambassador. If the person is qualified and not compatible with the officialdom, he goes. He/she cannot be undermining the Foreign Affairs Minister or the Permanent Secretary or the President and expect to be appointed," he asserted.

He said the positions will continue to be vacant until the political leadership decides on the preferred compatible individuals who will represent their interests in those countries.

His comments come amid debates over what is causing the delay in the replacements of the ambassadors who quit or whose terms expired.

"For one to be appointed an ambassador, he/she also has to represent interests of the appointing authority, not personal interests."

Munene explained to Capital FM News that the four countries are key, especially China which is the second biggest economy in the world after the United States.

"China is a critical station. You cannot ignore China. Every country is re-aligning itself with China because it is a force to reckon with. It is a creditable country than a debtor country. It has a clear political stand and it is clear about Chinese interests," he explained.

According to the expert, Kenya has to appoint a person who understands the critical interests of China and also give it a direct link to the Kenyan decision makers and authorities.

"For Kenya, we had a politician to that office because he had command of some offices, if you talk to this guy you can get straight to the top. That is the idea. No need of having an ambassador who cannot have access to the top. Then they are looking who is it we can have there to represent Kenyan interests, they have not found one yet," he asserted.

A former powerful minister under President Daniel arap Moi, Julius Sunkuli, was the ambassador to China. He is now seeking a senatorial post in Narok.

Munene also explained that Kenya has been into tough rows with the European Union whose headquarters are in Brussels.

He said the political leadership will take time to choose a strong candidate who will also manage the differences between Kenya and the EU in Brussels. "The EU has been harassing Kenya for a long time. We need someone with the political acumen to manage these people. It is all politics, it is not paper pushing."

Former Kiharu MP Kembi Gitura resigned from Belgium to vie for the Murang'a County Senate seat.

According to Munene, serious considerations also have to be made on the best person to represent Kenya in Australia which is a fast growing economy. "Australia is an emerging power of the conceptual West as opposed to the East. It is growing; it will be of interest to Kenya to have someone who can mingle with the Australians and make them happy so that they can stop watching kangaroos and come to see our animals."

Stephen Tarus was the ambassador in Australia but resigned to vie for an elective post.

Former Provincial Commissioner Francis Sigei who also resigned was serving as Kenya's High Commissioner to Nigeria since 2009.

Munene shared his thoughts that the process of replacing the previous ambassadors is also complicated because the coalition government has to share the positions and each side has keen interest in every country.

Unlike Western ambassadors who are engaged in identifying projects they can fund and support, Kenyan ambassadors in developed countries are more engaged in promoting Kenya's tourism sector, looking for partnerships and seeking for developmental support according to Munene.

He explained, "They can hardly engage in aid from Kenya. Our diplomats establish rapport with the power wielders so that they are favorable to Kenyan interests. Some ambassadors know how to maneuver their way out. Some join clubs to create rapport. It is a question of having a good head on the shoulders. Generally, we have diplomacy of begging. You go and tell them we are poor, we need this, when they agree, then they tell you, we will give you that on condition that you give us the following."

He advised that ambassadors should be individuals who can make proper decisions and also have the capacity to face the host country if what they want to have in Kenya is not achievable or can hurt the country.

"It is up to the diplomats and their bosses in Nairobi to see if they can go along with it. It will be wrong for any country to agree to terms that are detrimental to their interests, no matter how sweet, sugar coated the terms are to individuals, that is why we need people who can tell that is not in Kenya's interests as opposed to people who are mechanical. We want people who can argue with reason and tell the other side you are wrong and then they will give you some respect. But if you say yes to everything, you lose respect and you end up insulting you. There is a time we were saying yes to everything," he said.

The professor explained that unlike the way foreign ambassadors are vocal in political, economical and social issues Kenyan ambassadors rarely get space to express their dissenting opinions about the countries they are posted as ambassadors.

He is opposed to Kenyans who are fond of buying everything the West says whether negative or positive to the country.

"That kind of thing should not be allowed. We have prominent politicians who enjoy being at the backend call of external forces, if something is said by the west then it becomes gospel. That is a danger. We know that other countries have their interests even at the expense of other people," he warned.

He is advising the appointing authorities to ensure that they appoint people of integrity, people who understand Kenyan interests and also have the diligence and capability to competitively represent Kenya and its interests.

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