Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua with his Canadian counterpart Melanie Joly

Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua with his Canadian counterpart Melanie Joly addresses the media at Upper Hill Chambers in Nairobi on May 2, 2023. Dr Mutua’s claim that Canada would offer jobs to Kenyans was denied by the Canadian authorities. 

| File | Nation Media Group

Kenyan diplomats embarrassed by ministers’ gaffes

What you need to know:

  • Experts want President Ruto to organise a crash programme for CSs on international relations and diplomacy.

Kenyan senior public officials are learning, nearly every week, the price of goofs in their speeches, probably a result of pressure to deliver.

This week, the Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Ministry had to disown an ‘invade-Sudan’ comment by Mr Moses Kuria, the Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade and Industry.

Mr Kuria had on Sunday tweeted a controversial suggestion to “bomb Khartoum to smithereens” if the country’s warring generals refuse to lay down the arms and surrender to democratic rule.

Known for speaking his mind, Kuria’s tweet suggested that the world must respond militarily to the war in which the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have defied most ceasefire agreements since April 15.

“The community of nations should militarily invade any country where armies overthrow the government. Appeasement does not pay off,” he wrote in a tweet on May 14.

“Military juntas do not become democrats simply because of the false principle of non-interference. The AU (African Union) can marshal a strong enough army to bomb Khartoum to smithereens.”

Kuria’s tweet was quickly rejected by Nairobi, even though he didn’t delete it.

“The personal views expressed by Moses Kuria do not represent government policy on this complex and challenging issue. We continue to work with all parties towards a peaceful resolution of the Sudan Crisis,” said Dr Korir Sing’oei, the Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

In fact, government officials in Nairobi have generally spoken of their disgust for the warring generals, in private. Kuria just couldn’t stomach it, and embarrassed Nairobi especially since President William Ruto has publicly called for dialogue, offered to host a mediation and backed a regional bid to seek peace.

After representatives of SAF and RSF agreed to enter a dialogue last week in Jeddah, President Ruto backed the move.

“Kenya welcomes the talks in Jeddah between the warring factions in Sudan facilitated by Saudi Arabia and the USA. We urge the sides to commit to making this engagement successful and a step towards ending the conflict and the destruction it has brought on Sudan and its people,” he said on May 7.

Some commentators say the recent goofs reflect the lack of adequate awareness of their roles and national policies within the senior ranks of President Ruto’s government.

“There is a need for a serious induction and training for them to understand that every government official is a diplomat and his or her action reflects on the country’s foreign relationship,” Dr Kizito Sabala, from the University of Nairobi’s Department of Diplomacy and International Studies said.

Is it ignorance or the left hand not knowing what the right is doing? Some experts think it’s the former.

Prof Macharia Munene, a historian and fellow at the Horn International Institute of Strategic Studies in Nairobi said, “we need some care at the high level of the government.”

“Exposure and refresher sessions on national interests and appropriate behavior will be crucial,” he said.

Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangagi, an expert in international relations, said top government officials have to know how to advance the country’s interest in the global scene without hurting our external partners.

He added that the appointing authority has to place individuals with the right professional background in charge of sensitive dockets to keep the positive image of the country.

“These mistakes send very wrong messages about us as a country. We have to get the right people for some of these jobs to avoid these kind of embarrassments. We can always advance our interests without hurting our partners,” said Mr Mwangagi.

Yesterday, Mr Kuria said there was nothing wrong with his remarks except for being a CS.

“My personal view remains that the war there is terrible and those involved were not democratically elected. I retracted it because I am a minister. You know we (Trade and Foreign Affairs) come from different mandates despite working for one government,” said the former MP.

This was not the first instance PS Sing’oei was contradicting CS Kuria. In February, they differed over the China Square controversy after CS Kuria occasioned the closure of the one-stop mall, insisting that the investors are only allowed in the country as manufacturers, not traders.

But Dr Sing’oei said the country’s investment regime is non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory.

“The war in Sudan is hurting the economy. Any time the PS (Dr Sing'oei) contradicts me, he puts a call to me first to discuss the matter. It’s normal,” said Mr Kuria.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Dr Alfred Mutua was also on Wednesday caught in a similar gaffe. Dr Mutua had talked about his negotiations with the Canadian government that would open opportunities for Kenyans in the foreign land.

But Canada would later warn Kenyans of fake job programmes. Dr Mutua told Nation that his statement was taken out of context since both his office and Canada were basically cautioning Kenyans against falling victims of rogue agencies out to defraud those seeking jobs in Canada.

“We agreed with Canada that we will issue warnings against scrupulous agents. That is what I did and that is what they did. Their statement had nothing to do with my statement Dr Mutua. Kenyan sensational media jumped on it,” he said.

In his earlier statement, Dr Mutua said the government was in “deep negotiations and we will be providing a comprehensive statement within the next few days with guidance and links agreed upon between the Kenyan and Canadian government so that Kenyans can apply for migration or job visas.”

Last month, Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi raised controversy after telling the media that Nairobi had contracted Zambian farmers to help produce maize for Kenyans.

While he said the first consignment of the grain will arrive by august, Zambian authorities denied such knowledge, insisting they were in fact importing.

“I think we all know that there has been a shortage of maize, especially in border areas of Tanzania, Congo and Malawi. In the most immediate response, the government decided that we allow importation to supplement whatever we have to alleviate shortages,” Zambian Finance Minister, Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane, told The EastAfrican on the sidelines of Spring Meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in Washington.

“So, to facilitate that, (Zambia’s) Treasury has removed taxes and other fees payable on maize imports so that we contribute towards moderating the cost of this commodity. The taxes have been removed, the private sector is free to import from either South Africa or anywhere.”

The goofs have forced Dr Ruto’s staunch supporters and critics to point it out to him the mistake by some of his senior officials

“I just want to be honest with President Ruto. Since he shunned professionals in his Cabinet, he may soon need to have his CSs undergo a crash course on international relations and diplomacy,” argued Dr Miguna Miguna, a flamboyant lawyer who also holds Canadian citizenship.

“Their gaffes are embarrassing to say the least, and they paint Ruto’s administration as shambolic to Kenya’s foreign partners.”

ODM Chairman John Mbadi, Secretary General Edwin Sifuna and Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi described the gaffe as “pure incompetency”.

“Most of the people Ruto appointed don’t understand governance. Mutua’s goofs started when he was a government spokesperson when he referred to then Illinois Senator as a junior senator,” said Mr Mbadi.

Mr Osotsi said:“Apart from the clear gross incompetence of this regime at all levels including Presidency, the constant political campaigns are not helping them stabilise the country.”

Last year, the State House announced cutting ties with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), only for the Foreign Ministry to walk back on the stance days later.