President Uhuru Kenyatta’s failure to officially receive newly appointed foreign envoys is causing anxiety in diplomatic circles, putting at risk billions of shillings in trade and investment from some of Kenya’s most valuable partners.
At least six countries, including Zambia, Japan, Italy, France, Germany and Austria have been left in a diplomatic limbo in Kenya after the Foreign Affairs ministry suspended the accreditation of their envoys indefinitely, citing Mr Kenyatta’s busy diary.
The ministry has since advised new envoys posted to Kenya to delay their arrival until they are told of the President’s availability.
Though Mr Kenyatta’s men have stuck to the busy diary narrative, the delay in accrediting the envoys is being seen as communicating a message to the affected countries.
“Whereas there is nothing common among the countries in the list, delay in accreditation has traditionally been used as soft language of rejection or a way of expressing that the matter is not a priority,” said Macharia Munene, a professor of History and International Relations at the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi.
Top Foreign Affairs ministry officials did not respond to queries on the matter but analysts warned that delay in accrediting foreign envoys could send wrong signals to foreign capitals that Kenya is not open for business — a position that could cost the country billions of shillings in missed trade and investment opportunities.
“We cannot accept a situation where ambassadors are kept waiting without explanation. We have summoned the Cabinet secretary to appear before us next week and explain what is happening,” said Bare Shill, the vice-chair of the National Assembly’s departmental committee on Defence and Foreign Relations.“The President must create time to receive credentials from ambassadors.”
Envoys are crucial in the negotiation of trade treaties, bilateral financing deals and other areas of mutual interest and are the ones who sign bilateral assistance agreements.Ochieng Adala, a retired career diplomat, said accreditation makes one an ‘ambassadeur extraordinaire et plénipotentiaire’ meaning she or he is the head of mission with full powers to engage the State on all matters.
“Without accreditation, an ambassador cannot meet the President in a formal capacity, cannot host his country’s national ceremonies such as Independence Day and is not empowered to sign and negotiate any bilateral assistance deals,” said Mr Adala in an interview.
The list of diplomats who are awaiting accreditation to assume office includes Tatsushi Terada of Japan and Rémi Maréchaux of France.The gravity of the diplomatic impasse is underlined by the fact that three of the countries — Japan, France and Germany — are some of Kenya’s leading creditors, accounting for almost a fifth or 18.5 per cent of total external sources of financing.
Kenya’s overall public debt has more than doubled in the past five years to Sh1.8 trillion by June this year, 44 per cent of which is external debt.Japan is ranked Nairobi’s top source of funding in the bilateral category, having loaned East Africa’s largest economy a total of Sh85.5 billion ($1.009 billion) by June this year.
It trails the World Bank, which takes the lion’s share of Kenya’s debt owed to creditors outside the country.Tokyo disburses most of the funds through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The financing is mostly targeted at infrastructure projects, mostly in energy and roads sectors. France had advanced Kenya a total of Sh46.7 billion ($551.1 million) by the end June. Most of the money has gone into revamping the electricity grid and building roads.
Germany, which had offered Kenya long-term credit to the tune of Sh24.6 billion ($291.1 million) by June, follows closely behind. Ambassadors act as chiefs of mission in host countries, issuing and receiving official communication on behalf of their governments and offering traders seeking to develop new markets a starting point.
Heads of State for host countries have to formally receive their credentials before they acquire such status —complete with diplomatic immunity.
Prof Munene says the absence of ambassadors means the affected countries cannot be fully represented at the government-to-government engagements or international meetings taking place in Kenya.
Of the countries affected by delay in accreditation, Zambia enjoys cordial relations with Kenya as members of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) trading bloc.
It is the only African country that has an enforceable double taxation agreement with Kenya and has become a key market for Kenya’s detergents, cooking fats and long life milk. So far, Zambia has maintained a positive trade balance with Kenya, taking in Sh6.6 billion of Kenyan exports last year compared to Sh2.9 billion worth of imports.
Politically, it has emerged as one of the allies in the coalition of leaders cobbled by the African Union (AU) to push for deferral of President Kenyatta’s ICC cases.Political pundits say the country’s political administration may have issues with European countries but not necessarily France, Germany and Italy which have so far avoided the ICC debate publicly.
Local exporters collectively see Japan, France and Germany as emerging markets for Kenya’s agricultural commodities such as horticulture, coffee and tea deepening their frustration.
“Unlike the traditional markets that our flowers have dominated mainly through the Dutch Auctions, direct sales that allow buyers to trace the naturally grown flowers to Kenya is slowly taking root in these emerging markets,” the Kenya Flower Council CEO Jane Ngige said in an earlier interview.
Exporters, however, say the expansion of external markets — especially for direct sales — starts with a fully functioning diplomatic mission.But in recent months, the Kenyan government has lumped Italy, Germany and France as part of the imperialist powers seeking to sustain their domination of Africa through the ICC.On Sunday, Mr Kenyatta minced no words as he led the nation in celebrating this year’s Heroes Day.“They may be powerful and rich but so were the colonialists,” he said, attributing ICC woes to foreign manipulation.
By George Omondi and David Herbling