Romania recalls envoy to Kenya Dragos Tigau over monkey slur

Dragos Tigau

Romanian envoy to Kenya, Dragos Tigau.

Photo credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba | AFP

The Romanian government says it is recalling its envoy to Kenya, Dragos Tigau, after African diplomats complained that he used a monkey slur during a meeting in Nairobi two months ago.

It was unclear whether the envoy was being transferred to another station or simply for consultations.  But a source told Nation.Africa that Romanian Foreign ministry routinely recall their ambassadors abroad to clarify points on controversy in their line of duty.

The decision follows a meeting in Bucharest on Friday between Romanian government officials and African diplomats, to whom the Foreign Ministry said it had apologised.

"The Minister of Foreign Affairs (Mr Bogdan Aurescu) decided that the Romanian Ambassador to the Republic of Kenya should urgently return to Romania and that the Internal Control and Diplomatic Evaluation Unit of the MFA should immediately start the necessary procedures, including the determination of the internal measures to be taken in the given situation," said a statement from the Romanian capital, Bucharest, on Saturday.

"The Romanian Foreign Ministry deeply regrets this situation, apologises to all those affected and strongly rejects and condemns all behaviour and attitudes incompatible with mutual respect. Any behaviour or statements of a racist nature are totally unacceptable"

Mr Tigau found himself in the eye of a racist storm after African diplomats accused him of using a monkey reference in a joke at a meeting at the UN headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi, on 26 April.


The complaints had largely died down since the incident. That was until Macharia Kamau, Kenya's former principal secretary for foreign affairs, took to Twitter to accuse Dragos Tigau of racism and degrading Africans.

"Appalled and disgusted to learn of the remarks made by the Romanian Ambassador in Nairobi referring to African Group members as monkeys during the Eastern European Group meeting," Kamau said.

"Utter shame (of) attempts to cover up this disgrace. This (is) intolerable and unacceptable in any age, let alone the 21st century in Nairobi."

Ms Zainab Bangura, the Director-General of the UN Office at Nairobi (UNON), was technically the host of this meeting of Eastern bloc and African Group ambassadors in Nairobi.

She has not commented publicly or responded to queries from Nation. Africa.

However, the dean of African Group ambassadors in Nairobi, South Sudan's ambassador to Kenya, Chol Ajong'o, had lodged a protest with UNON immediately after the incident, expressing the wish of his colleagues to walk out of all future meetings until the Romanian envoy apologised.

At the 26 April session, Romania was chairing the Regional Group of Eastern European States and had convened a meeting in the UN compound, Conference Room 9.

The meeting was attended by 21 delegations, 8 in person and 13 online. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the UNEP Secretariat and a UNON technical officer, according to those present.

"At one point during the meeting, a monkey came and sat at an open window of the conference room, prompting H.E. Dragos Tigau, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Romania, to remark that, quote, "the African Group has joined us," unquote.

"That the remarks were made is not in doubt, as a delegation in the room protested the remarks, reprimanded them and asked H.E. Mr Dragos Tigau, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Romania, to apologise for the unacceptable remark," said the African Group's note verbale to Ms Bangura.

The African Group protested the apparent equation of her person with the monkey, which it said amounted to racism.

Withdraw statement

During the meeting, some diplomats reportedly reprimanded the Romanian envoy, forcing him to withdraw the statement. The Romanian diplomat immediately apologised to the audience, explaining that he had referred to the 'African wilderness', not to the people in the room or to Africans.

Later, in his written apology, he explained that he had used the monkey because it was the animal that had jumped by the window during the meeting, seeing that it would make a light touch. He told the diplomats that he had made the reference with a light touch.

The African envoys had demanded a written apology "not only to the African Group, but also to the people of Africa where the United Nations Office and the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) are located".

"Failure to do so will result in the African Group walking out in protest, or should this prove futile, the African Group will walk out in protest of the United Nations Habitat Assembly should H.E. Mr Dragos Tigau, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Romania be present in the room."

Mr Tigau and his Romanian government were key figures in the evacuation of Africans trapped in Ukraine when the Russians invaded in February last year, after offering temporary visa-free passage to all Kenyans fleeing the war via Romania.

The racist slur, which the Romanian government says was an isolated incident, could now tarnish his reputation.

Written apology

On Saturday, Bucharest said the envoy had not informed it of the incident, contrary to reporting procedures for ambassadors abroad. And Nation.Africa understands that UNON itself tried to cover it up and let it pass.

The envoy has since issued a written apology.

"Such behaviour and attitudes do not in any way reflect the institutional and human values that underpin the diplomatic action of the Romanian MFA, which is based on the promotion and deep respect for human rights, diversity and the fight against racism and any form of intolerance or discrimination," Bucharest said.

"The Romanian MFA expresses its hope that this isolated incident will not affect the deep relations between Romania and the African countries, especially considering that the Romanian diplomacy considers the development of relations with Africa as an important priority of its action, based on partnership and mutual respect."