Why all the fuss about Ms Mwende Mwinzi being nominated Kenya’s ambassador to South Korea? Just because she is a dual citizen of Kenya and the US? The list of state officers contained in Article 260 of the Constitution (the President, CSs, KDF commanders, NIS director, Governors, MPs et cetera — who are barred by law from holding dual citizenship) does not mention ambassadors. If it was an oversight, a constitutional court should clarify.
Let’s get a bit deeper into the legalese. Article 234 of this same Constitution actually makes a distinction between state offices and “an office of ambassador or other diplomatic or consular representative of the Republic”. Further, Article 78 makes exceptions on citizenship for judges and members of commissions and “any person who has been made a citizen of another country by operation of that country’s law, without ability to opt out”.
That sums up Mwende’s dilemma. She can’t just opt out. And why should she? She was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to a Kenyan father and an American mother. That gave her American birthright citizenship. American law is clear that anybody born on American soil, whether through an American parent or even by a foreigner who happens to be staying in the US, is entitled to automatic US citizenship. The same privilege is accorded to anybody born of an American parent anywhere in the world. (Mwende’s family did come back to Kenya where her dad and mom took up jobs and where she grew up and went to school).
Mwende’s situation is unusual because her American birthright mirrors her Kenyan birthright. Kenyan law equally states that if you were born through a Kenyan parent anywhere in the world, you are entitled to birthright citizenship. To stretch the argument further, former US President Barack Obama would be perfectly entitled, if he so wished, to claim Kenyan citizenship because his father was a Kenyan. Yes, he can.
It is unfair to demand that Mwende renounce her US citizenship, just as it would be unfair if the US were to demand that she renounces her Kenyan citizenship. What is there to renounce? A birth entitlement? The situation is not like if she acquired her US citizenship through marriage, or naturalisation, or through a Green Card. That way it is easier to opt out as a US citizen. But here is a situation where she was born a citizen. The law is surely an ass. Years ago she had applied for a Kenyan birth certificate while in the US, acquired a Kenyan passport, then travelled to Kenya where she got an ID card.
When vetting Mwende for her appointment, the MPs deliberately kept mixing up the definitions of state officer and public officer once they realised there could be a constitutional loophole for ambassadors. State officers are listed in Article 260, while a public officer is anybody on the government’s payroll, from a teacher to a policeman to a nurse. Surely, is Parliament suggesting that such cadres must never have dual nationality? Or even foreign nationality, like the Cuban doctors in Kenya?
Nobody has suggested Mwende is not qualified for ambassadorial appointment. She is. In fact, the IEBC had cleared her to run for Parliament in Kitui West constituency in 2017, the confusion some MPs are bringing up now about dual citizenship and state officers notwithstanding. There is a lot of hypocrisy in our Parliament. I know a good number of MPs who have dual citizenships or hold US Green Cards. And a couple of current ambassadors too. The same can be counted among senior executive branch members.
Mwende is no wall decoration. She is a very well-wired policy and communications consultant based in New York who has done work for global companies like ZTE and Sharp Electronics. She has also professionally operated on behalf of the Kenya government on numerous occasions in advancing Kenya’s policy objectives in the US, such as after the 2007/8 post-election violence period. In 2004, President Mwai Kibaki created the National Economic and Social Council, a high-powered policy think tank, where he appointed Mwende and luminaries such as former UK link-woman to Africa, Baroness Lynda Chalker, Head of the Public Service Francis Muthaura, investment bankers Jimnah Mbaru and Ayisi Makatiani. The team, which served for no pay, crafted Vision 2030.
Mwende founded the “Twana Twitu” charity for orphaned children in her native Kitui, a key consideration in Kibaki awarding her, in 2008, with the State honour of Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS). Come the House committee vetting for the ambassadorial job, she was refreshingly upfront by volunteering her dual citizenship status unprompted, pointing out the beneficial linkages to the globalised world and the vibrant Kenyan diaspora. Such are the talents and minds Kenya needs.