Ex-ministers in unfamiliar territory as they accept new roles

Lands Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi addresses mourners during the requiem of former Imenti Tea Factory chairman Stephen Imanyara at Lavington United Church on January 18, 2018. Kaimenyi has been appointed as Permanent Representative to Unesco. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The induction is meant to help the officials get a grip on the proper way to conduct themselves in their work stations.
  • Elkanah Odembo, who served in France and the US, thinks it is not a demotion to be appointed ambassador right from the Cabinet.

Had Amina Mohamed not been retained in the Cabinet and instead appointed Kenya’s envoy to, say Austria, as it happened to her colleagues who were dropped, she would have had to report to Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary (PS) Macharia Kamau, who was her junior in her old ministry.

Ms Amina wouldn’t even easily access her former Principal Secretary, Monica Juma, who took her old place as Foreign Affairs Cabinet secretary (CS).

Such is the reality facing former CSs whose induction for their new jobs as envoys is ongoing at a Nairobi hotel.

While they will largely retain their old pay as CSs, the move comes with other costs, such as dislocation from home and disruption of personal businesses.

They will also miss their status as they will have to be at the beck and call of PSs and Chief Administrative Secretaries.

So intense was the dilemma that many considered rejecting the appointments.

Ambassador nominees who turned down their appointments are former Presidential adviserr on legal Affairs Abdikadir Mohammed and former Kenya Rural Roads Authority Director-General John Ogango.

But it is also not easy to reject a presidential appointment, a situation that has driven many appointees to engage in soul-searching, unsure of what to do.

The former CSs-turned-envoys attending the training are Willy Bett (India), Dan Kazungu (Tanzania), Hassan Wario (Austria) and Cleopa Mailu (UN, Geneva).

Others include Phyllis Kandie (Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union), Judi Wakhungu (France), Jacob Kaimenyi (Unesco) and former State House Comptroller Lawrence Lenayapa (Netherlands).

Ideally, they needed no training as they have sufficient experience in the civil service.

But Foreign Affairs culture requires they be taught a few things about their new work stations and the conduct of diplomacy.

This programme takes a month, after which they will be posted to respective departments to “learn on the job”, as one official told the Sunday Nation.

“By the end of the programme, the participants should be equipped with practical skills and competencies, which will enable them to effectively articulate Kenya’s foreign policy in a rapidly changing international environment,” a concept note distributed to the new diplomats read.

Mr Simon Nabukwesi, the Director of the Foreign Service Academy, said the induction is meant to help the officials get a grip on the proper way to conduct themselves out there.

The former Kenyan High Commissioner to Canada whose academy trains new diplomats, said the new envoys will learn about protocol, etiquette and managing temperaments.

“They need to know how to work with other officers,” he said.

How to manage temperaments might indeed come in handy because in their new stations, the former ministers will have to genuflect to officials, some of who were way too junior to them in their old jobs.

“We have to prepare them psychologically. They need to know how to work with other officers, because some of them have been used to working in areas with large numbers of staff yet in embassies, on average, you find there are just about 10 to 15 employees,” Mr Nabukwesi says.


Prof Wakhungu insisted during her vetting that her nomination was not a demotion but a chance to further her “best performance in the international world”.

“It takes courage and humility to remain answerable to a person who had been your junior,” is how former minister Franklin Bett, who also served as ambassador to Australia, put it.

But Elkanah Odembo, who served in France and the US during President Kibaki’s time, thinks it is not a demotion to be appointed ambassador right from the Cabinet, because it involves serving the President.

“It is not really a demotion, unless you really want to treat it that way. Unfortunately, some people see it that way.”

“There was usually a bit of hostility on the part of career diplomats who feel, perhaps, that they have waited so long to be ambassador.

"But once people get to know you are useful, then things start to work smoothly,” Mr Odembo remembers.

The Kenyan government has made it a tradition to appoint politicians into Foreign Service.

The composition of envoys abroad is almost 50:50 — career diplomats and politicians or outsiders.

Mr Bett, also a former State House Comptroller, thinks his appointment may have ruined chances for career diplomats, besides demoting his status.

“These are the people who have spent most of their time building their careers but with a stroke of the pen, we simply ignore them and appoint people from without. It is demoralising.”

Mr Ochieng Adala, a former Permanent Representative to the UN, says the perceived tension between career diplomats and politicians is not usually an issue unless the government decides to make Foreign Service a “dumping ground”.

“The problem during our time was when they became too many. Some weren’t even interested in being ambassadors and their minds and souls were still in politics. Being appointed ambassadors made them feel they were being exiled from the country.”