In the recent past, President Uhuru Kenyatta has been on a diplomatic charm offensive, courting fresh suitors while re-igniting old relationships.
Over the last three years, President Kenyatta has, on at least 10 occasions, gone out on State visits or invited foreign heads of state to the house on the hill.
In 2016, he welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development and struck deals in transport, energy, irrigation, ICT, peace-building and the blue economy.
A few months later in January, 2017, President Kenyatta was in India, on a State visit hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee, their talks centering on security, defence, maritime, power transmission, agricultural mechanisms and infrastructure development.
The following month, President Kenyatta welcomed Egyptian leader Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and deliberated on medicine, agriculture, security and diplomacy.
The same month, Slovakian President Andrej Kiska, a Poprad-born entrepreneur, writer and philanthropist, came calling, with his State House talks revolving around ICT, energy and agriculture.
Last year’s visits to Cuba and USA were, no doubt, among the most significant in recent Kenyan history with President Kenyatta breaking virgin ground in medical intervention.
As a result of the Havana interactions, Cuba sent over 100 medical practitioners to benefit Kenya’s 47 countries.
White House talks with President Donald Trump yielded multiple deals expected to help drive Kenya’s “big four” agenda of manufacturing, food security, healthcare and housing.
And last year, Nairobi and Addis Ababa also engaged in road network infrastructure development, tourism, agriculture, immigration and prisoner exchange with President Abiy Ahmed Ali visiting Nairobi and President Kenyatta recently reciprocating with a tour of Addis Ababa.
And just last week, President Kenyatta orchestrated the first State visit by a French Head of State as President Emmanuel Macron was treated to the 21-gun salute at State House.
Paris’ purse strings were loosened, with private-public partnerships worth Sh340 billion, that include manufacturing and transport infrastructure development, signed.
It was good to see former NMG colleague Claude Mwende – now the chief executive officer at Urysia, Kenya’s franchise holders for French automobile manufacturer Peugeot – take a presidential spin in the Kenya-assembled Peugeot 3008 Allure, with Kenyatta and Macron, on the well-manicured precincts of State House.
For a moment, I placed myself in Mwende’s shoes, and conjured up an “elevator pitch” I would unleash in the historic 120-second drive, after, of course, quickly explaining the car’s interior.
“Monsieur le President, our football could also benefit a great deal from partnerships with the Institut national du football de Clairefontaine, which has produced the world-beating ‘Les Bleus’ squad,” I would chip in before the orderlies arrive.
And this would spark off discussions on how Kenyan sport can benefit from the French experience and largesse, after activating sporting relations between Nairobi and Paris.
Indeed, all the other State visits should have considered the sport agenda, especially with President Kenyatta having now declared that all national teams will be State-funded.
The presidential decree that elevated the Magical Kenya Open Golf Championship onto the European Tour also means that the Sports, Arts and Social Development Fund Oversight Board will have to dig deep to engineer financing to sustain the Tour status, besides funding the national teams.
Besides private-public partnerships – like the involvement of Barclays Bank of Kenya and the Ministry of Tourism in the delivery of the Magical Kenya Open – bilaterals with friendly nations can also go a long way in growing Kenyan sporting talent.
President Kenyatta’s delegation to Havana did include high-ranking sports officials, led by the then Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa.
But while health ministry officials fast-tracked the Nairobi-Havana intercourse leading to the arrival of Cuban doctors ages ago, nothing tangible seems to have come from the sports talks in the Cuban capital.
We expected that since Cuba’s prowess in boxing along with jumps and sprints is well documented, Kenyan athletes could have benefitted from Havana’s National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) in their build-up to next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
We were told that a memorandum of understanding was signed between Echesa and INDER President Antonio Eduardo Becali Garrido, which covered “academic exchange, anti-doping, sports medicine, community sports, equipment, training and development of coaches.”
But, exactly one year later, nothing seems to have taken off the ground, a stark contract from the rapid developments in the health sector where Cuban doctors were long deployed and are almost fluent in local dialects.
But with Echesa gone and Amina Mohammed, a career diplomat, now holding the reins at the sports ministry, we hope to see sport feature more prominently in matters foreign affairs.
Her arrival should trigger an avalanche of sports and cultural exchanges, hoping that she uses her vantage position, impeccable contacts and vast experience to unlock partnerships that will grow Kenyan sport.
Her diplomatic prowess will also come in handy in convincing especially western nations that Nairobi will be safe for next year’s IAAF World Under-20 Championships at Kasarani, following the boycotts by the likes of USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan of the under-18 championships in 2017 on security grounds.
Ms Mohammed has had a feel of the organisational task at major championships as she was in President Kenyatta’s entourage on his first foreign tour as Head of State at the 2013 IAAF World Championships at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
So, contrary to popular belief, she’s not quite a rookie in sports and should be able to hit the ground running. Her diplomatic contacts could help shore up Kenya’s sports financing and unleash avenues for our young sportsmen and women to flourish.