Détente in Nairobi

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US Secretary of State John Kerry during a CSO meeting at Pawa 254 Nairobi | Photo via Pawa 254 Hub

In the run up to the 2013 General Elections in Kenya, Johnnie Carson, then Assistant Secretary of State and top ranking diplomat in charge of Africa quipped that choices have consequences. A phrase I think the State Department regrets in foresight. This is because this statement was one of the clarion calls used by the then presidential candidates Uhuru and Ruto to mop up support for their election to the highest office in land in Kenya.

At that point in time, both Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were facing charges at the International Criminal Court for their actions and/or inactions (presumably) for the Post Election Violence that begot Kenya after the 2007 disputed polls.
Fast forward to today. The president’s case has been withdrawn by the prosecutor for lack of evidence and the stepping down of witnesses in some rather bizarre circumstances plus disappearance of others. The Deputy President’s case however is still on going at The Hague.

Once Uhuru Kenyatta was elected as president the west which had indicated before the elections that should the duo be elected as President and Deputy President, they would have what they referred to as ‘essential contact’. What that meant in the diplomatic language! However, this did not stop the newly elected president from discharging his duties.
In one of his best appointments to date in my opinion, the new administration tapped Amina Mohamed as the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign affairs. Previously, she had been an assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of United Nations Environmental Programme. Basically, she had a good understanding of how diplomacy works.

In the first year of the UhuRuto administration, we witnessed high level diplomacy from Kenya, where the country went full throttle to lobby the postponement of the then president’s case at the ICC. The African Union spearheaded the adjournment of the ICC cases at the United Nation’s Security Council which was unsuccessful.

However, the president in his first year in office visited key strategic countries, Russia and China, the two permanent members of the UN Security Council. China which has had substantial investments in the continent welcomed the president in Beijing with open arms. China, which also is an exponent of non-interference policy, seemed to take up the cue from African Union and they voted for the postponement of the cases when the matter came up for a vote at the UN Security Council.

Also, in the first year of his presidency the president seems to have developed a gravitas which unified the African heads of state and in the process his predicament brought some unforeseen fortunes in his doorstep. The president was seen by the rest of Africa as a new voice of the continent partly due to his excellent communication skills in front of the camera and also partly due to his rhetoric. The president also developed a very cordial relationship with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. The two gentlemen have been preserved as the new generation of African leaders and in turn the continent a changing continent and thus taking up from the well thought former South African President Thambo Mbeki.

Détente in Nairobi
Enter the second year of Kenyatta presidency, the diplomatic offensive and his rising clout seems to have convinced the west in my opinion the funders of the court to drop the case and as such be able to engage with the president without any hindrances.

As was expected the case was withdrawn by the ICC prosecutor early this year. As a consequence, Nairobi has seen a fair share of high ranking western leaders. This train, if I may call it so has seen the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair come to Nairobi. News of the Prime Minister being tapped to be an advisor of the president have percolated through, although how he got appointed and the remuneration he receives is still a mystery.

The other notable figure to come to Nairobi has been the former US President Bill Clinton. The former president was in town for his foundations business but he had time to meet the president at state house.

Then early last month word came in from the White House that President Barack Obama would be coming to Kenya in July this year. This initiated the recent visit by the Secretary of State, John Kerry who was in town to prepare for his boss’ visit and also try and offer support to Kenya in fighting terrorism. However, ultimately the recent détente can be attributed to the west seeing the enormous gains which has been made by China and as such America seems to be trying its fair share of remaining significant to the continent and also checking the Chinese influence in the region.

The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES