President Uhuru Kenyatta did something most unusual for a Kenyan leader: He pinched the nose of another president — a big, bad, ugly, tempestuous creature — just before entering his lair.
By the time you read this, President Kenyatta should have left the White House and headed home after talks with US President Donald Trump.
He will make it just in time to host British Prime Minister Theresa May on her maiden trip to the country that gave the young Princess Elizabeth a tree to climb, from which she came down as the Queen.
He will still be jet-lagged as he packs his bags for another back-breaking journey to the other side of the globe for an engagement with China’s President Xi Jinping.
Other than padding his frequent-flyer miles, meeting three powerful global leaders within a matter of days indicates President Kenyatta’s willingness to engage on the international stage and also his quest for support from all sides as spendthrift policies threaten to send the Kenyan economy into free-fall.
Just before his departure on Saturday, President Kenyatta implicitly criticised President Trump’s protectionist policies that have seen the US pull out of numerous multilateral agreements and launch trade wars with ally and foe alike.
That was provocative. The US president is over-sensitive to slights, real or imagined. He has a well-earned notoriety for shooting from the hip in uncontrolled Twitter tirades.
There was no telling how President Trump would react, whether by tweet or face-to-face, once he got wind of President Kenyatta’s comments.
That he did not immediately fire off unrestrained broadsides probably means the American leader never got wind of what his Kenyan counterpart he was getting set to host — only the second African leader to rate a White House audience since he took office at the beginning of last year — said.
President Kenyatta may have taken a calculated risk in tweaking Mr Trump’s nose just before departing for the US. If he was travelling with begging bowl in hand, chances are, he would be met by an often-irrational host who gives little regard to diplomatic niceties and does not conceal his disdain for Africa.
During his entire presidential campaign, Mr Trump did not make any mention of his Africa policy — except in passing, on the continent as just a staging post for the US anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East.
Any public references to Africa were in the negative, depicting it as a beggarly continent that under his regime, would no longer be a beneficiary of US development aid or preferential trade pacts such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).
If Mr Trump has ever made reference to Kenya, it was in his false pre-campaign assertions that his predecessor, Barack Obama, was born in Kenya, the land of his father, which would have made him ineligible to run for US president. After the election, his most famous reference to Africa was in the outrageous ‘shithole’ slur.
Now he has hosted not just an important African leader, but the President of Mr Obama’s ancestral land. And it came on the back of what must have been President Kenyatta’s very deliberate denunciation of new US isolationism — remarkable from the leader of a country known for ‘wait and see’ foreign policy.
When the US controversially relocated its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, Kenya was among a handful of countries that played truant at the United Nations as a solid majority, save for America’s vassal states, voted against it.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Kenya’s missing out on the vote simply as affirmation of long-standing polices against taking sides on single-issue disputes. But it was more likely fear of US threats.
Kenya also remained silent on President Trump’s ‘shithole’ comments — unlike a good number of African countries that also assert leadership at the regional and continental levels, who summoned US envoys to make clear their displeasure.
President Kenyatta’s remarks were made in an interview with the Chinese Global Television Network, so they were most likely missed by Mr Trump.
And the choice of channel might be significant, given that he echoed a position that has become the central message in a China propaganda blitz launched in reaction to US tariffs.
China has been trumpeting (no pun intended) its free trade credential in contrast to President Trump’s protectionist regime.
President Kenyatta is heading to the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) summit in Beijing, a gathering that demonstrates how China is displacing the US and Western Europe as Africa’s premier trade and development partner. Looks like his message to Mr Trump was, “If you don’t respect and support us, we have options”.
Now, we hope our President did not exit the White House on his knees.
[email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho