Avoid Qatar politics, Kenya tells fans going for the WC

Fifa World Cup

A FifaA World Cup sign is backdropped by the skyline of Doha on November 17, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Cacace | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Scholars see double standards on issues affecting developing world such as climate change
  • Fifa President Gianni Infantino criticises Western nations for their ‘hypocrisy’ and lectures on morality, saying Europe should apologise to people from the rest of the world for what it has done to them for the last 3,000 years

Kenya, like most of Africa, has remained quiet even as Western nations elevate their condemnation of Qatar for its rights record.

Foreign relations observers say there are strategic reasons for the deafening silence, most of it being to safeguard bilateral ties with Doha.

Qatar is the first Gulf country to host the Fifa World Cup that begins today with a match between hosts and Ecuador, making it the focus of the global media.

The oil-rich nation has been defending its human rights record ever since it was awarded hosting rights 12 years ago.

The noise became louder on Friday, when it banned the sale of liquor around the stadiums.

Kenya’s Embassy in Doha issued “guidelines” to Kenyans intending to fly to Qatar. One of the instructions is to avoid political engagements.

“The embassy urges citizens to desist from any political involvement or interference…or any misrepresentation of the Republic of Kenya during the period,” Mission said.

The World Cup in Qatar is unique because it is being held in winter. Traditionally, FIFA World Cup tournaments have been held in June and July, when the West is in the Summer season.

The predominantly Muslim host has been butted for alleged abuse of the rights of labourers who put up stadiums. This is besides its conservative views on LGBTQ+ people.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Saturday said Qatar would not be perfect but criticised Western nations for their “hypocrisy”.

“Today I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child at school, I was bullied because I had red hair,” he told reporters referring to his migrant heritage.

“For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons.”

Bad records

Qatar, Infantino added, has offered hundreds of thousands of women and men from developing countries opportunities to earn better for their families back home and it would be illogical to simply criticise.

There are about 30,000 Kenyans working in Qatar, making the Gulf country the third-highest employer of Kenyans in the Middle East after the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, according to the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs.

There have been cases of mistreatment in the Gulf, but Kenya has often chosen not to condemn. Qatar will not be different.

“This lies squarely in Kenya’s tradition of pragmatism in foreign policy in so far as understanding it on the principle of sovereignty,” said Leonard Wanyama, the Vice-President of the International Relations Society of Kenya, a lobby on foreign policy.

That saves Kenya the problem of not earning new enemies yet, especially when the world is full of unpredictables and messy players.

“There’s a lot of double standards on issues such as human rights and climate change.

Countries in the south have learnt to survive in this reality by concentrating on their interests as opposed to multilateralism,” Dr Hawa Noor, a fellow at the Institute of Intercultural and International Studies (InIIS) University of Bremen, told the Sunday Nation.

“We saw this trend in the UN Security Council votes regarding the Russia-Ukraine war.  Kenya knows Kenyan workers are there, and the aid and votes, too, are there,” she added, referring to elections in international agencies.

“One more important point, Why would Kenya criticise Qatar’s human rights record when it has its share of such bad records? And don’t forget there’s partnerships against Islamism and militancy.”

The long term benefit is that Qatar could see Kenya as a friend and help Nairobi it when in need.

“Kenya’s relation with Doha is largely friendly, informed by economic, diplomatic and labour ties. Recently, Qatar was instrumental in mediating differences between Kenya and Somalia that saw restoring of diplomatic relations,” Dr Hassan Khannenje, the Director of Nairobi’s Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the Sunday Nation.

“This is not to say there haven’t been seen divergence of opinion on certain issues.”
But Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries in the world and buoyed by its oil and gas reserves, can be Kenya’s longterm partner, Dr Khannenje argued.

“With need for foreign direct investment and increasing gas prices, Kenya can seek to attract Qatari businesses to invest in the economy as well as secure agreements for affordable natural gas in the wake of unpredictable global prices,” he said.

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