Envoys demand apology from Egypt, accuse representative of racism

Delegates in a session during the second United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi on May 24, 2016. PHOTO | NGARE KARIUKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The head of the delegation was not identified in the letter, but Egypt, which currently holds the presidency of the sent in its deputy assistant minister for foreign affairs in charge of environmental issues.
  • The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), established in December 1985, serves as platform to provide advocacy for environmental protection in Africa.

African diplomats attached to the United Nations Environmental Programme in Nairobi have accused an Egyptian envoy of making racist remarks during the recent environmental conference.

In a note written by the Africa Diplomatic Corps Technical Committee, the ambassadors demanded that Egypt be barred from representing the continent because its head of delegation had misbehaved by calling his colleagues “dogs and slaves.”

Yvonne Khamati, the Kenyan diplomat who chairs the committee, wrote in the protest memo on Sunday that the Egyptian head of delegation to the meeting had “undiplomatic, irresponsible, uncivilised and insulting behaviour” during the second session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA).

The envoys demanded an apology from Egypt.

But on Tuesday, Mahmoud Ali Talaat Mahmoud, the Egyptian ambassador to Nairobi, told the Nation the issue had been blown out of proportion.

“If there was any insulting, it is something we are investigating, but we should not take any decisions or anticipate anything without knowing it. Because I don’t think he said these things,” Mr Mahmoud said in a telephone interview in Nairobi.

“Our concern now is that this letter is not talking about a person but Egypt in general. Egypt has always supported African states because we are all facing the same challenges,” he said.

According to the letter sent to the dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, Kelebert Nkomani, the quarrel began during deliberations on a resolution on Gaza.

“Divisions evolved when the resolution on Gaza was not adopted due to a lack of quorum because most delegations had left. As a result, a few African delegations consulted with the delegation of Morocco, in their capacity as Chair of the Arab League and Egypt, with the view to dissuade them from nullifying the resolutions that had already been adopted before the issue of quorum was raised,” said the letter copied to Kenya's Foreign Ministry.

“During our consultations with Egypt, the head of the Egyptian delegation and current President of AMCEN [African Ministerial Conference on Environment] dismissed our concerns by informing that they would speak in their sovereign capacity and to that extent, referred to sub-Saharan Africa as dogs and slaves, in Arabic,” Ms Khamati said in the memo.

The head of the delegation was not identified in the letter, but Egypt, which currently holds the presidency of the sent in its deputy assistant minister for foreign affairs in charge of environmental issues.

AMCEN, established in December 1985, serves as platform to provide advocacy for environmental protection in Africa.

It was meant to ensure “that basic human needs are met adequately and in a sustainable manner; to ensure that social and economic development is realised at all levels; and to ensure that agricultural activities and practices meet the food security needs of the region,” according to its website.

Egyptian Environment Minister Khaled Mohamed Fahmy is the current president of the group. He did not attend the assembly in Nairobi.

On Tuesday, Kelebert Nkomani, the Zimbabwean ambassador to Nairobi, refused to comment on the memo.

But Ms Khamati told the Nation that the African states had resolved to support the resolution for an environmental assessment of the Gaza conflict by UNEP and that technically meant Egypt, as a member of the African Union, was to support it.

However, she argued, when Egypt was approached to support the African cause, Egypt chose to nullify the resolution on the basis of lack of a quorum, before he allegedly insulted the African diplomats.

The UNEA meeting was the second such meeting to be held in Nairobi and 25 resolutions were agreed on to combat air pollution, wildlife trafficking and plastics control.

The African group is now calling for the resignation of Egypt from the presidency of AMCEN and to “unreservedly apologise to Africa”.

The committee has also recommended that the matter be escalated to the Permanent Representative Committee in Addis Ababa, New York, Vienna, Geneva, “and subsequently to the Heads of State Summit to be held in Kigali, Rwanda in July".

The Egyptian ambassador told the Nation: “When there is something, we should discuss it and investigate it amicably instead of rushing to conclusions.”

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