Nairobi declines Ukraine request to address Kenyan Parliament

Ukraine’s ambassador to Kenya Andrii Pravednyk

Ukraine’s ambassador to Kenya Andrii Pravednyk. 

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The beef appears to originate from the fact that Kenya had granted a similar meeting to Russians.
  • On March 12, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau hosted Russia’s ambassador to Kenya, Dmitry Maksimychev, weeks after Nairobi condemned the invasion at the UN.
  • “We felt bad. On one hand, they are condemning Russia for butchering innocent women and children. On the other, they are holding meetings and posing for photos with the oppressor,” said the source.
  • But the source at the ministry was quick to dismiss the Ukrainians’ concern, saying there was nothing wrong with the courtesy call.

Kenya has declined a request from Ukraine to address Parliament, as Nairobi officials feared being dragged into a conflict with the potential to hurt its bilateral ties with both Kyiv and Moscow.

The details emerged on Monday as Kenyan diplomats in Nairobi argued they have been doing enough already through the UN Security Council.

Ukraine, which has been defending territory against Russia’s invasion, made the request to address the Kenyan bicameral House in February when Moscow launched what it called a military operation in that country.

But a well-placed source indicated the request was not honoured, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs remaining mum despite repeated follow-ups and reminders.

On Tuesday, a senior ministry official told the Nation there was no need to allow the speech, adding that Kyiv should make use of the available diplomatic channels.

“Why would they want to address the Kenyan Parliament, for instance? Is there a precedence?” an official asked.

Officials at the ministry told the Nation that Kenya has been playing its role as the African representative on the UN Security Council and is careful not to appear to be taking sides in the war because its interest “is to see an end to the war”.

“We have made principled decisions which we took from an African position. We are there (at UN) as Africa representatives,” added the official.

The Ukrainian request, which multiple sources confirmed, reflects the lobbying that has gone on since Russia invaded Ukraine for Nairobi to speak up on the war it has condemned in the past.

The East African nation is holding one of the 10 non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council and both Ukraine and Russia see it as critical in deciding issues related to the conflict at the horse-shoe shaped table in New York.

While Nairobi has used its non-permanent seat on the Security Council to either condemn the invasion or abstain from decisions of both the General Assembly and the Council, it is yet to grant two wishes critical to Kyiv: a top-level meeting involving foreign ministers, and the speech to Parliament.

Well-placed sources on Monday told the Nation that for two months, Ukraine’s ambassador to Kenya, Andrii Pravednyk, has been seeking to meet with Kenya’s Foreign Affair Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo in vain.

“The first Note Verbale (a diplomatic note) requesting a meeting with Amb Omamo was sent before the war on February 14, 2022. It was left without consideration, unfortunately,” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to issue press statements on behalf of the embassy, told the Nation.

“Afterwards, as the war started, the Embassy requested an urgent meeting on February 24, 2022. Instead of the meeting, Kenya’s MFA offered a 15-minute telephone conversation... Today (April 11, 2022) we again requested a meeting with Amb Omamo.”

Kenya's Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau hosts Russia’s ambassador to Kenya Dmitry Maksimychev in Nairobi on March 12, 2022.

Photo credit: PHOTO / COURTESY

On February 25, the Ukrainian envoy sought to address Kenya’s Parliament, barely 24 hours after Moscow unleashed missiles on Kyiv.

The Nation understands that the ambassador — like Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has addressed a host of EU and Western Parliaments, including the US Congress —  wanted to seize the opportunity to rally political support against Russia.

“On March 10, 2022 we received Ministry of Foreign Affairs Note Verbale informing us that our request will be considered. No response as of today,” the source said.

Kenya, though, argues it has been consistent in condemning the war, as well as calling for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, noting it enjoys strong diplomatic ties with both countries.

On Monday, during a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine, under the ‘maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine’, Kenya, once again, condemned the invasion.

“We would not be here having this discussion but for the armed breach of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” said Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN, during the session.

“We must again observe, and condemn, the continuing disregard for international law and the United Nations Charter, and the anarchic, dangerous world that has resulted,” he said, and that Nairobi was “reaffirming Kenya’s lasting support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine”.

AU Position

Kenya, however, has been cautious as well, avoiding departing from the African Union’s position, which condemns the invasion but opposes the massive economic sanctions imposed on Russia.

On Friday, Nairobi abstained from a UN General Assembly vote that proposed suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

The vote eventually passed, but Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria were some of the African countries that abstained.
“In the UN Security Council, we had called for a prompt, independent investigation of the serious crimes in Bucha and elsewhere in Ukraine,” a Kenyan statement explained, referring to areas in Ukraine where bodies of civilians were found shot and some with limbs tied up.

“The vote was premature. In future the HRC may appear biased and weaponised.”

Kenya had been among 141 of 193 countries that endorsed the UN General Assembly statement that condemned Russian “aggression” against Ukraine last month.

And Nairobi delivered a powerful speech earlier in February at the UN Security Council when it warned the war may revive “dead empires”.

“In our considered view, this action and announcement breaches the territorial integrity of Ukraine,”

Kenya said as Russia invaded. Nairobi had refused to endorse a similar vote three weeks earlier, saying it was giving diplomacy a chance.

Nairobi on Monday denied it had refused an audience with the Ukrainian diplomat, saying all his requests had been addressed, except the speech to Parliament.

Russian Meeting

“All ambassadors await their turn and availability of the Cabinet secretary. Also, it is not a must that the ambassador sees the CS face to face. We have handled his requests and we have records to prove that,” the official told the Nation.

The beef appears to originate from the fact that Kenya had granted a similar meeting to Russians.

On March 12, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau hosted Russia’s ambassador to Kenya, Dmitry Maksimychev, weeks after Nairobi condemned the invasion at the UN.

“We felt bad. On one hand, they are condemning Russia for butchering innocent women and children.

On the other, they are holding meetings and posing for photos with the oppressor,” said the source.

But the source at the ministry was quick to dismiss the Ukrainians’ concern, saying there was nothing wrong with the courtesy call. The official rejected the claim the meeting was centred on the conflict.

“Why not (the meeting)? This is international diplomacy. (US President Joe) Biden has been seen with (Russia’s Vladimir) Putin. (Secretary Antony) Blinken has met the Russian foreign affairs minister. It’s not a matter of taking sides, we want them to stop the war.”

The government aside, thousands of Kenyan citizens have offered to support Ukraine in the war with financial, spiritual, moral and other support.

Just a week after the embassy opened bank accounts to receive financial donations, sources said close to Sh1 million had been received via M-Pesa (Paybill Number 3002400) by Monday.

Kenyan Fighters

“We are touched by the sheer number of ordinary people willing to donate Sh1, Sh2, Sh5, Sh7, Sh50 and even Sh1,000 to help children, women and the elderly affected by the invasion,” said the source.

“We are not receiving the funds to finance the war. The donations will be used to deliver food, medicines, clothes, beddings and build houses destroyed by Russian fighters.”

He revealed that some Kenyans have also requested to be enlisted to fight Russians in Ukraine but none has been cleared yet.

“The requests were delivered to our defence attaché in Johannesburg but as you may know, not everyone can be allowed into a battlefield. They have to be vetted and only those who can demonstrate military training can be allowed,” he said.

“It is also a moral issue because unlike Russia, Ukraine is not hiring mercenaries and just anyone and arming them to fight. Ukraine has big reserves of fighters. What we need more is weapons and tools to fight with.”

Russia is said to be recruiting fighters from Africa, mainly in the Central Africa Republic and Mali, a move condemned by some West African countries.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 — an act that was roundly condemned by the international community as “aggression”.

Missile Strikes

The invasion that included missile strikes on Kyiv and other major cities has triggered Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 4.5 million Ukrainians leaving the country and a quarter of the population displaced, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Ninety percent of those who have left are women and children.

The invasion marked a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which began following the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity — the February 2014 deadly clashes between protesters and security forces in Kyiv that culminated in the ousting of elected President Viktor Yanukovych and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government.
 

Additional reporting by Aggrey Mutambo.

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