Kenyan senators on Thursday debated whether to summon Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing'oei for 'lecturing' them on Nairobi's Somaliland policy.
The issue led to a clash over how to respond to a social media exchange between Senate Speaker Amason Kingi and Dr Sing'oei on the controversial issue of Somaliland.
And while a number of senators condemned the conduct of the PS for publicly chiding the Senate Speaker over the country's relations with Somalia's breakaway region of Somaliland, Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot, and Whip Boni Khalwale defended his actions.
The senators demanded that the PS be summoned to appear before the House for demeaning Kingi in public and also offer an apology, accusing him of “selective amnesia.”
They argued that the character of the PS to casually handle diplomatic issues on social media was appalling and not in line with the civil service code of conduct.
The issue arose on Tuesday night after Mr Kingi met with Mr Mohamed Ahmed Mohamoud, the head of the Somaliland Liason Office in Nairobi.
Mr Kingi described Somaliland as a ‘republic’ with which Kenya “enjoy ties that stretch back to its days under British colonial rule, which bequeathed them almost similar systems and structures of governance at independence.”
“Somaliland is not a recognised State and Dr Sing’oei promptly clarified Kenya’s position: “It is Kenya’s established, unchanging foreign policy, consistent with the AU that only the Federal Republic of Somalia is the recognised state entity,” he said.
“Somaliland, a region within the Federal Republic of Somalia, has a liaison office for commercial purposes in Nairobi. The office is not an embassy.”
Mr Kingi later deleted the post but did not apologise for the error.
In the Senate on Thursday, the matter elicited mixed reactions as members debated a statement sought by Migori Senator Eddy Oketch from the committee on National Security, Defence and Foreign Relations regarding diplomatic relations between Kenya and the Kingdom of Morocco, while also maintaining ties with the government of the breakaway Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Although a majority of the speakers supported the establishment of an embassy in Morocco, also weighing in on the breakaway Sahrawi, they pegged it on President William Ruto’s agenda for an open Kenya that relates with all Africans.
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is recognised by the African Union but no other country beyond Africa recognizes it. That has seen Morocco lobby against Sahrawi’s existence, considering it as a Morocco province.
Nonetheless, the issue on the floor was more about respectful exchanges between senior government officials rather than foreign policy.
“It is an embarrassment for a low-ranking officer at the MFA to attack the speaker, a symbol of the House. It is shameful and disrespectful of the officer to take on the speaker in a manner that is not normal,” said the Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo, also the Minority leader.
“If you are working in the Executive, you can not meddle in the affairs of parliament. The PS’s action is an insult and embarrassment to this House, it is a matter of shame and shock as people from the coast, we will not allow anyone sitting on the seat of the senate to go through the same.”
He demanded that the committee on National Security, Defence and Foreign Relations chaired by Baringo senator William Cheptumo should summon the PS, who alleges has gone rouge.
“We will not allow the status of the senate to be demeaned. This Senate has powers to consider matters of national interest. Senate led by the Speaker is allowed to engage with dignitaries, officials on matters that cut across different sectors like Health, Agriculture among others to help this country,” he stressed.
According to Madzayo, the most important assignment for the speaker is to ensure the House discharges its duties, including ratification of treaties.
Earlier, Minority Leader Ledama Olekina launched a scathing attack on the PS, and called for public officers to be re-educated on the conduct of diplomacy.
“We have a critical role in educating some of those characters who represent us in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I was literary shocked when I saw the PS Abraham Sing’ei Korir attacking the Speaker of the Senate and saying the speaker of this House can not be able to meet and discuss issues to do with diplomacy,” faulted Senator Ledama.
He continued, “You know people have selective amnesia, if you look at the previous administration and this offices we hold, they are not offices that belong to an individual. These are offices that transient individuals.”
Nairobi maintains a one-Somalia policy but the previous administrations had often opened doors for Somaliland leaders to visit or set up presence. President Uhuru Kenyatta, for instance, invited Muse Bihi Abdi, the President of Somaliland. It earned him a protest from Somalia including six months of severed diplomatic ties. Kenya, like Ethiopia and Djibouti have consulates in Hargeisa Somaliland, but they had to get permission from Mogadishu.