Kenya’s envoy to France Judi Wakhungu recalled as changes loom

Judi Wakhungu

Prof Judi Wakhungu during her vetting by the National Assembly’s Defence and Foreign Relations committee on February 21, 2018.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya’s ambassador to France Judi Wakhungu has been recalled as anxiety over the appointment of diplomats by President William Ruto persists.

Her recall came after the President led the Kenyan delegation to the New Global Financial Pact in Paris last week. It also follows the recall of another diplomat—Ms Mary Muthoni—from China in March, as President Ruto plans a major shake-up in the diplomatic corps.

Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei on Sunday confirmed that Ms Wakhungu had been recalled, saying her tenure had come to an end. He revealed that the tenures of several other diplomats have elapsed and that the President will soon make the necessary changes.

“Once the appointing authority makes a decision on persons to represent the country in different diplomatic missions, new postings will be made. My hope is that this will happen soon,” Mr Sing’oei told the Nation.

Several politicians in the Kenya Kwanza fold who backed President Ruto’s election are among other individuals expected to land the ambassadorial positions, even as the President is said to be keen on professionalising diplomatic missions.

Key figures in Kenya Kwanza who are being touted for ambassadorial jobs include Dr Joseph Magut who once served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Germany, Dr Irene Asienga, Dr Robert Muriithi and Dr Crispin Bokea.

National Assembly’s Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Chairman Nelson Koech said that there is need to have professional diplomats appointed ambassadors instead of politicians.

“It is time to have professionals to head the missions in line with the United Democratic Alliance and Kenya Kwanza’s foreign policy to boost the country’s relationships abroad,” Mr Koech said. He added that it was unfortunate that the positions had been made a preserve of unsuccessful politicians.

“As a committee, we would wish to see experts appointed to these positions in line with the Kenya Kwanza foreign policy to spur regional and global economic development and boost our international relations,” said Mr Koech.

Some of the politicians who are hoping for selection as ambassadors include former nominated MP Gideon Keter, ex-governors Okoth Obado (Migori), James Ongwae (Kisii) and Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia), former Chengany MP Joshua Kutuny and ex-East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Simon Mbugua. Others are former governors William Kabogo and Ferdinand Waititu of Kiambu, Mike Sonko (Nairobi) and former Jubilee Party chairman Nelson Dzuya.

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said: “There is a process that will take place and the President will make his appointments or changes when the time is appropriate. There is that process of evaluation which is equally rigorous and takes time to have individuals who will adequately represent us in the foreign missions.”

He, however, appeared to defend politicians keen on the jobs. “We should not demonise politicians. Let us talk about whether the person has done the job right or not. We should look at it in the context of merit and capacity,” he said.

He went on: “We have seen a situation where the number one diplomat on matters climate change in the US today is John Kerry. Is he a politician or not? He even wanted to be president.

“So it’s a question of what is that politician offering on the table but we should not make blanket condemnation in such circumstances. So the President in his own wisdom might choose to have a blend of those who have been in politics and those who have not in his appointments.”

He said that as the one in charge of public performance, he would also want to have a situation where there is merit to ensure civil servants are growing.

There have been concerns on the appointment of politicians to the foreign missions over claims of using the positions as political rewards and not doing their work diligently.

“In terms of execution, professionals would therefore do better,” said a former envoy. “Some politicians can also be erratic in their pronouncements and this can disrupt diplomatic relations.”

He said the delay to name new ambassadors could be as a result of the President allowing ambassadors’ terms to elapse.