Wednesday, December 4, 2013

LOVE HER OR HATE HER, AMINA MOHAMED "ROCKS"

Not too long ago, many Kenyans did not know who Amina Mohamed was. Her various positions in the bureaucracy did not give her an opportunity to shine. However, in recent months, her name has appeared everywhere, thanks to the International Criminal Court and her aggressive campaign to clear the names of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, currently facing international charges against humanity.

It was only in May when she was plucked from the corridors of quiet diplomacy at the United Nations where she served as an Assistant Secretary General and thrust into the murky global political arena and a blazing media spotlight. Amina is perhaps the most recognisable Kenya government official besides Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Because of her steadfast defence of the government, she appears to have earned a place as one of Uhuru's most dependable advisers.

Amina is the 20th person to hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio since Kenya became independent, the first one being Jomo Kenyatta in 1963 when he was Prime Minister. Four of the them - Joseph Murumbi, Mbiyu Koinange, Kalonzo Musyoka and Robert Ouko - each served two stints.

As we celebrate the Jubilee Anniversary this year, it is only fitting to look at some of the people who have left the biggest foot-print in our relations with the rest of the world.

Out of the 20 Ministers, I have chosen four - Dr. Njoroge Mungai, Dr. Munyua Waiyaki, Musyoka and Ouko, as the top diplomats who will go into history books as the most dynamic. You can now add Amina to that coveted list. She happens to be the only career diplomat, a non-politician and a female to be appointed to the docket.

Both Mungai and Waiyaki served during the turbulent era of apartheid in South Africa and stood at the very front of the diplomatic fight against the deplorable policies of the Boer regime.

When Britain wanted to sell arms to the Pretoria regime it was Mungai who vigorously campaigned against the sale. South Africa asked for the arms ostensibly to defend the Indian Ocean sea corridor, but Mungai and other African leaders feared the armaments could be used against South African freedom fighters. The Kenya Foreign Minister made that position with vigour and commitment at all international fora.

In Singapore in 1971, at a meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of State Summit, some countries led by Britain - the intended supplier of the wares - distanced themselves from the Kenya position even though Mungai made a compelling case.  By the time the matter reached the Summit the following day, the hard line position taken by Mungai had been sabotaged by some elements in the Kenya delegation who managed to convince the Vice President and leader of delegation, Daniel Arap Moi, to back down and support the sale. The opposition was defeated.

However, Mungai's career got a major boost when he successfully convinced the world to set up the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi. The Gigiri complex is considered the biggest trophy of our global diplomacy and kudos will forever go to Jomo Kenyatta's one-time physician.

When Mungai was moved to Defence, Waiyaki took up the apartheid regime with a vengeance. While some Kenyan leaders pushed for the normalisation of relations with South Africa, Waiyaki made it clear that would "not happen during my lifetime, not when I am in charge of foreign affairs." He said it would only happen over his dead body.

Waiyaki was unflinching when it came to fighting for Kenya's interests - whether it was at the OAU opposing the Boers; at the Habitat Conference in Vancouver when he called for a comprehensive approach to human settlements; or, in New York when he engaged the US Assistant Secretary of State Nathaniel Davis over the supply of fighter jets to Kenya. During Waiyaki's five year tenure, Kenya's voice was heard loud and clear; and when Kenyatta died in Mombasa in 1978, it was Waiyaki who managed Kenya's diplomatic transition from Kenyatta to Moi.

As for Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, he was particularly effective when it came to regional peace initiatives. He shepherded both the Sudan and Somalia peace efforts and was part of the team that re-engineered IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Initially the organisation was called IGADD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development. He is the only Foreign Minister to serve under two Presidents, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki. In both cases his performance was above average. He was relieved of the chairmanship of the peace efforts in 2004 only when he persisted on criticising Kibaki for reneging on the power-sharing arrangement with Raila Odinga's Liberal Democratic Party.

The most recent high achiever in the Foreign Affairs docket was Robert Ouko. Although he did not serve long before he was mysteriously killed, Ouko worked tirelessly during the short time he spent at the Foreign Office to repair Kenya's image abroad, heavily dented by Moi's sweeping disregard for democratic ideals and human rights. He was brilliant, suave and persuasive. One of the best dressed of the Cabinet Ministers then, he cut an image of a statesman, and at times he was seen to be overshadowing his boss. Many think that probably led to his assassination.

Now, Amina. Although some have called her a sycophant, "defending the indefensible" on the issue of the ICC trials, no one has accused her of being dumb or unqualified. The former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Permanent Secretary has impeccable educational and work credentials, a strong, pleasant personality; and is one person who fears nothing once she has made up her mind on an issue.

She spent weeks shuttling between Nairobi, the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Hague where ICC sits, and the UN Secretariat in New York trying to ensure the ICC trials do not see the light of day; and when she finally emerged at the Hague to say that "we have achieved everything we wanted to achieve," there was a big sigh of relief from many Kenyans.

The victory was not total but in the eyes of those who were indignant about the whole idea of our President sitting in the dock at the ICC, the Foreign Minister had brought home the bacon.

So hate her or love her, Amina Mohamed "rocks."

And that is my say.