Defence Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma is pitching the ‘renewal’ of trust in the secretariat of the Commonwealth group of countries, if member states pick her as the next boss.
Dr Juma, whose candidacy was endorsed two weeks ago by President Uhuru Kenyatta, says she is targeting an overhaul of the secretariat, saying she will place the priorities of members before anything else.
The idea, an official pitch for her candidacy, is to change the perception of the Commonwealth as an organisation whose relevance has passed. And if that changes, the bloc could play a big role in tackling challenges among member states, she says.
The Commonwealth is composed of 54 states, including the UK and most of its former colonies, as well as Rwanda and Mozambique.
“I intend to deliver an effective secretariat, driven by member states’ priorities that optimise and draw from the diverse advantages and potential of the Commonwealth,” she says in the pitch.
“The secretariat that I will lead will work with all member states to bolster the unity of the Commonwealth family.”
While she did not directly criticise incumbent Patricia Scotland, she argues that a strong secretariat will lead to a stronger Commonwealth that can pool resources to fight climate change, debt relief and recovery, “optimising innovations, protection of vulnerable groups and facilitation of youth productivity, promotion of fair trade and investment, transnational organised crimes, pandemics and epidemics among many others.”
Dr Juma is expected to officially embark on campaigns later this week, targeting Caribbean members said to be divided on her contest. A provisional itinerary seen by the Nation shows she will directly speak with diplomats from Commonwealth countries and hold sessions with groups such as those from African, Caribbean and Asian members of the Commonwealth.
She did not elaborate how exactly the Club, as the Commonwealth is known, will raise the resources. Traditionally, richer nations have pooled resources for the secretariat to implement programmes. Yet as the world grows more multipolar, and countries consider regional integration more, the Commonwealth’s influence has waned recently.
Some richer countries have also threatened to stop funding its programmes unless tighter transparency is implemented.
In the last elections in 2015, Ms Scotland, the incumbent, was endorsed from the start by African and Caribbean countries. The first black female attorney-general in the UK, she was born in Dominica in the Caribbean.
Her term was extended twice due to Covid-19. She remains in the race for the second four-year term. Usually, the Club votes by consensus, meaning all members must endorse a candidate.
As it is, the vote in Africa and the Caribbean is divided, leaving the candidates to jostle for Asian members. A diplomat familiar with the lobbying said the Kenyan candidate has chosen focus groups to pitch her case.
Dr Juma initially served as Kenya’s ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti, and as permanent representative to the African Union before 2013. She was later appointed principal secretary in the Interior ministry before she moved to Defence and, later, Foreign Affairs, where she was promoted to Cabinet secretary.
Despite her experience in both academia and public service, this is her first contest for an international organisation. President Kenyatta touted her as an experienced diplomat who can build consensus and establish better strategy for the organisation.