UK's Uhuru invite points to policy change

Saturday May 4 2013

President Uhuru Kenyatta meets British High Commissioner to Kenya Dr. Christian Turner at State House, Nairobi on April 30, 2013. President Kenyatta is expected to visit London at Britain's invitation next week for a conference on Somalia. Photo/FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta meets British High Commissioner to Kenya Dr. Christian Turner at State House, Nairobi on April 30, 2013. President Kenyatta is expected to visit London at Britain's invitation next week for a conference on Somalia. Photo/FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP

By PAUL REDFERN, Nation Correspondent in London

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s invitation to President Uhuru Kenyatta to attend a conference on Somalia is the clearest signal yet of a normalisation of relations between London and Nairobi.

It will be President Kenyatta’s first trip to any western capital since his election in March.

Britain and other countries said before his victory that they would have only "essential contacts" with him if he won because of the International Criminal Court case.

However, a combination of vital strategic interests, economic ties, tourism and historic links have led to calls for a change of approach to dealings with Kenya’s new leader.

The official line from the Foreign Office in London is that Kenya “is a vital partner on Somalia and we judge our contact according to the issue concerned".

The invitation was extended because President Kenyatta had committed to co-operating with the court in The Hague, the Foreign Office said.

However, President Kenyatta will not only attend the important summit but is also due to hold a meeting with Mr Cameron.

While there has been criticism in the UK press for Kenyan MPs proposed pay increase, the new Cabinet has received much praise.

The internationally respected Economist magazine said that the Cabinet “had a refreshingly unfamiliar look".

“Among the most striking appointments is Amina Mohammed, a former UN official who had been touted as a future head of the World Trade Organisation, to the foreign ministry; she is the first woman and the first ethnic Somali to hold the post,” the Economist said.

“Another five women have been named, including Raychelle Omamo, who will be Kenya’s first female defence minister.”

Ms Mohammed’s appointment to the foreign ministry is likely to be important in the forthcoming conferences on Somalia in London (on May 7) and Nairobi next month when it is likely that millions of pounds in foreign aid will be pledged to boost the country’s police and security forces.

William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, said Somalia leaders "need international support to build up" security forces, police and the coastguard in an effort to tackle piracy.

Security is one of the four key aims of the conference, which has been convened by the British PM and includes representatives of 55 countries and organisations.