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Kenya’s AU loss not the end of the world for her diplomacy

Saturday February 4 2017

Leaders welcome Amina Mohamed (with flower), the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, to her luncheon at InterContinental Nairobi Hotel on February 1, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Leaders welcome Amina Mohamed (left), the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, to her luncheon at InterContinental Nairobi Hotel on February 1, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed’s loss in the race for the African Union Commission chair should be cause for soul-searching about Kenya’s relations with our African continent but, more specifically, with our East African Community partners. The Kenyan Government had invested enormous diplomatic capital to get Amina elected yet, in the end, a man from a nondescript Francophone country called Chad won.

This was Kenya’s first huge foray into running AU affairs. It flopped. The regimes of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki never gave the OAU/AU priority in their governance. Uhuru Kenyatta has, something which was forced on him by the urgency to rally the continental body to back his case against the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Chad may have some oil, but she is not by any standards an African heavyweight. She’s small fry. It seems her candidate got the job in a move to block other claimants like Amina. Still, Chad hosts the regional military command of the West African multinational force fighting Boko Haram. Thus, it was a given Nigeria, the West African powerhouse where the terror group sprung from, would go with the Chadian candidate Moussa Mahamat, and along the way help influence the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to line up for him.

There was bigger fish than Nigeria in the name of Francophonie, the alliance of French-speaking states. They are particularly concentrated in West, Central and North Africa, and they have numbers. Actually they have controlled the AU and its predecessor the OAU since inception. Four out of five AU Commission chairpersons have been from Francophone countries. The occasional Anglophone chief executive is almost an afterthought.


I was expecting the Ecowas bloc would be backing the Senegalese candidate, Abdoulaye Bathily, an accomplished diplomat and academician. It all ended with the bloc alongside the larger Francophone one steam-rolling into office the Chadian candidate and another West African, Ghana’s Thomas Kwesi Quartey, to deputise him. Note, too, that the incoming AU chairperson is Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, also from West Africa. And Conde took the baton from none other than Chad’s President Idriss Deby.


I doubt the Jubilee Government’s hostile stand against the ICC was the key factor in Amina’s loss. The majority of African states actually detest the ICC, and they repeated the threat to pull out en masse during the just-ended Heads of State summit. The anti-ICC lobby includes the other powerhouse South Africa, whose beef arose after being censured by the court for not arresting Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir when he attended an AU summit in Johannesburg in 2015.

The other countries that had been vocal on withdrawing from the ICC are Burundi and the Gambia. However, the latter could, in all probability, change course following the installation of a new leadership to succeed the exiled autocrat Yahya Jammeh.


There remains plenty of confusion about how our EAC neighbours voted amid Kenyan insinuations of betrayal. Uganda issued a statement denying she voted for Mr Mahamat. There has been even less clarity about the position of Burundi and Djibouti. What seems to have transpired is that the neighbours chose to abstain at the final round of voting, probably after sensing the Francophone tide was unbeatable.

The issue of the re-admittance of Morocco was a sore point with certain members, though it is by no means clear whether it specifically determined the voting. Robert Mugabe was among the dissenters, even accusing his colleagues of lacking principles. Morocco withdrew from the OAU in 1984 over the admission of Western Sahara, which it illegally occupies. Nothing much has changed regarding that occupation to date, which is why those like Mugabe spoke out against the AU’s about-turn.

Unfortunately, Kenya did not lose gracefully. Amina intimated that certain EAC neighbours she did not name had abandoned her and called for a re-appraisal of our relations with them. That would amount to a drastic step that should be approached with utmost diplomatic care.

Withdrawal from the EAC as some short-sighted Kenyan hotheads were proposing is an absolute non-starter. The bloc is the bedrock of our trade and our membership and engagement should not even be subject to discussion. Too bad Amina lost, but it is not the end of the world for Kenyan diplomacy.