Uhuru tries to right things with diplomatic postings

Dr Paul Kibiwott Kurgat. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • On Thursday, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed him deputy ambassador to Moscow, where he will deputise Benson Ogutu.
  • Kimani will be the substantive replacement for Macharia Kamau, now the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On the website of the Kenyan Embassy in Russia, Dr Paul Kibiwott Kurgat is listed as Kenya's last ambassador posted there. It is an old piece of information. But Dr Kurgat left the station in 2015, was appointed a commissioner of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and then resigned in January 2018, alongside two other commissioners, Margaret Mwachanya and Consolata Nkatha Maina.

Dr Kurgat's story has come full circle, though. On Thursday, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed him deputy ambassador to Moscow, where he will deputise Benson Ogutu. The announcement saw veteran diplomats get new postings, alongside some political figures.

If he were to report for duty, it would be the first time in Kenya's history an ambassador returns to an old station as a deputy. Yesterday, the Foreign ministry clarified that Dr Kurgat's posting to Moscow was done in error and that changes will be made in the coming days to send him to another station.

Whether that is corrected or Dr Kurgat accepts the posting may, however, not change the pattern of Kenya's foreign missions. Some experts told the Sunday Nation the President was trying to rectify earlier mistakes by placing career diplomats or experts in the right positions. They also argue that it is important to balance politicians with veterans of foreign service.

Foreign relations

"Political appointees have the goodwill of the government and may therefore be in a good position to enjoy a working relationship with the executive branch of the government at home," argued Dr Kigen Morumbasi, a security and international relations lecturer at the Strathmore University. "It is important to strike a balance between the two (career diplomats and political appointees) to ensure there is efficiency in the conduct of foreign relations."

The President nominated Martin Kimani as the new Permanent Representative to the UN in New York. Coming after Kenya won a seat at the UN Security Council, Dr Kimani is seen as a person whose previous work as a de facto national security adviser to the President could come in handy. "He has sufficient diplomatic experience and expertise on security matters and I think it is good to have him there," a security consultant who works him on counter-terrorism programmes told the Sunday Nation, choosing to remain on the background so as not to avoid hurting their working protocol.

Dr Kimani has been Kenya's Special Envoy for Countering Violent Extremism and Director of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. He served as Kenya's permanent representative to the United Nations Environmental Programme headquatred in Nairobi. But he has also been the joint secretary to the Building Bridges Initiative, which makes him a political choice.

Two weeks before his nomination was announced, he argued Kenya's presence on the UN Security Council from January provides an opportunity for Nairobi to "to share our lessons and capabilities" in countering violent extremism.

More women

The President's new list means that most of Kenya's crucial diplomatic missions will have more women and be headed by people with experience in the foreign service, even if their ethnic composition will still raise questions. Kimani will be the substantive replacement for Macharia Kamau, now the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ms Jean Kamau who had been in Pretoria will now swap places with Catherine Mwangi who had been in Addis Ababa. But the President nominated Ms Tabu Irina, until now the Chief of Protocol to head Tokyo, replacing Solomon Maina who finished his term recently.

"Appointment of Tabu Irina to Japan is huge. She is long-serving and deeply trusted chief of protocol," a colleague of Ms Irina told the Sunday Nation yesterday.

Others from the foreign service include John Tipis (Canberra), Immaculate Wambua (Ottawa), Lindsey Kiptiness (Bangkok) and Tom Amolo (Berlin).

Julius Sunkuli, ambassador to Beijing during the Mwai Kibaki days, told the Sunday Nation that it is routine for envoys to be rejected, and their sending states forced to change them.

"Once they are vetted and approved, the Foreign ministry sends a request to their receiving state for the agrément [official acceptance]. It is totally at the discretion of the receiving state to give or deny it and that often seals the fate of the appointee," he said.

"Many diplomats get rejected and there could be various reasons. They could be people with known stands about the country or the ethics and character of the person could be in question."

Mr Sunkuli clarified that states do not normally refuse ambassadors because they are related to the President or had been in the same political party. Usually, those reasons may be given to Nairobi.

In 2018, Kenya's appointed head of mission to the European Union Phyllis Kandie was swapped with Prof Jacob Kaimenyi who had been sent to Unesco. Ms Kandie had been Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs when the bloc failed to reach joint agreement with the European Union on an economic partnership agreement (EPA).

Diplomatic service

In the same year, then presidential adviser on legal Affairs Abdikadir Mohammed and former Kenya Rural Roads Authority director-general John Ogango declined their nomination as ambassadors.

In May 2015, Kenya was forced to change a new posting to Ottawa after Canada refused to issue an agrément for Nairobi's appointee in Lucy Chelimo.

Ms Chelimo was at the time the youngest woman appointed head of mission but was instead sent to Zimbabwe and her position taken by John Lanyasunya the then Director for Asia Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who himself had been appointed Kenya's inaugural ambassador to Algiers. Ms Stella Munyi will now take up the Harare Mission, in the latest appointments.

But the new list of new envoys angered some. Ahmednassir Abdullahi, a senior counsel in Nairobi asked whether members of certain ethnic and religious backgrounds no longer qualify to be appointed in the diplomatic service.