Kenya: Why President Kenyatta is on a global charm offensive

Mamos Media

President Uhuru Kenyatta is introduced to government officials by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottleyon upon arrival for a State visit at the Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown, Barbados, on august 10,2019. PHOTO | POOL

President Kenyatta is leading a charm offensive in foreign countries in a mission that touches on security, economy and United Nations politics.

In the last one month, the President has met Heads of States or their representatives from 18 countries in Kenya and abroad.

Already, figures from the Controller of Budget show the presidency — occupied by Mr Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto — spent Sh190 million in the last nine months compared to only Sh36.5 million in 2017/2018, signifying the heightened foreign activities.


The first mission is to secure Kenya a seat at the UN Security Council, protect its interests in Indian Ocean, which is under threat from Somalia, and lobby for expansion of the UN office in Kenya, which brings the country more than Sh36bn in foreign currency and puts Sh1bn in the pockets of landlords in Nairobi and other towns.

On Friday night, President Kenyatta met Caribbean Head of States under the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECC) and the Caribbean Community (CARRICOM), in Bridgetown, Barbados.

On the sideline of the meeting, the President reached out to 10 leaders from the region, asking them to support Kenya’s bid for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the period 2021 to 2022.

“Kenya’s candidature is informed by the critical role the UN Security Council plays in the maintenance of international peace and security,” President Kenyatta was quoted in a statement sent to newsrooms by the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit.

At home, President Kenyatta has lobbied the East African Community and leaders of Botswana and Namibia.

Abroad, he has sent emissaries to meetings with leaders of China, Russia and the US, even though these were still non-committal.


Kenya is seeking to win the seat when the UN General Assembly takes up the vote in June next year, hoping to sit on the Council from January 2021 to December of the same year.

Kenya is up against Djibouti for the slot reserved for Africa. Djibouti has refused to step down for Nairobi despite pleas and the African Union now wants the two countries to square it off.

“The African Union reserves the right to select its representatives for election to the UN Security Council to act in its name and on its behalf,” a communiqué said then. Traditionally, countries contesting for the same position are often encouraged to reach consensus or surrender for one another. But Djibouti and Kenya have both remained in the race, so the AU put up a vote on August 5.

Kenya scored 33 out of 49 votes, but there has been no agreement on whether the winner has to get simple majority or two thirds majority. The final vote will be on August 21.

“The August 5 vote went our way,” Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau told Sunday Nation. “The overwhelming majority voted for Kenya. The 16 were abstentions, there was not even (one) against. We are hoping for final vote on 21 August.”

Mr Kamau said Kenya is looking for another overwhelming majority win at the AU.


President Kenyatta has subsequently met Heads of State from Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone and other ambassadors ahead of the vote. If Kenya wins Africa’s backing, it still has to win the backing of two-thirds of UN General Assembly members present when the agency convenes for a vote in New York in June 2020.

And this crucial backing is what President Kenyatta is seeking in his foreign tours in Africa and the Caribbean.

The UN Security Council, the most powerful organ of the UN, is charged with maintaining international peace and security. It is also charged with admitting new members to the UN and can approve any changes to the UN Charter, the formative law for the United Nations.

It has 15 members, but only five of them are permanent and hold veto powers, meaning they can stop a substantive decision such as sanctioning a Head of State seen as a violator of global peace. They include Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and the US.

If elected as a non-permanent member, Kenya may not vote on substantial issues like those of security; but being on the Council allows opportunity for lobbying, officials argue.

“It is easier to bring a motion to Parliament if you are an MP instead of as a civilian. It is the same case with being at the UN Security Council,” said an official who did not want to be named.


For example, the UN Security Council, if it sees the Kenya-Somalia dispute as a potential threat to global peace and security, it can encourage parties to negotiate. This may end up watering down any ruling at the ICJ, where both countries have taken the matter.

The trips by the President come as Parliament encouraged the government to intervene militarily to stop Somalia from claiming a chunk of Indian Ocean islands, which have oil and gas deposits.

Kenya wants to also use the seat to secure its interests in Somalia, especially the Indian Ocean area, and safeguard the local economy.

For instance, Kenya is pushing for the listing of al-Shabaab as a terror organisation to stop the flow of goods in the area they control, thus starving the terror organisation of funds it uses to launch attacks in Kenya.

It will also save Kenya money and personnel it uses to patrol the Somalia border.

Kenya launched a diplomatic offensive at the UN last week, with Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau saying that the addition of al-Shabaab to the al-Qaeda/ISIL sanctions category would focus “global efforts in tackling the group.”

“It has caused serious havoc, not just on Kenya but the region and the world in general,” Mr Kamau added. “It is important that all global efforts now come together to combat this.”

A group of former high-ranking State Department officials, however, opposed Kenya’s proposal, urging the US to block Nairobi’s push at the United Nations.


The 16 former US government officials warned that the Kenyan proposal could cripple life-saving relief efforts in Somalia.

Kenya’s proposal, the second in five years, could go to debate early next month, unless a permanent member of the 15-nation UN Security Council formally objects to it.

Signalling its misgivings this time, the US has already placed a temporary hold on the Kenyan initiative. It expires on August 29, and the opponents of the proposed Shabaab listing are urging the US to block the move altogether.

President Kenyatta is also lobbying the countries to support Kenya’s bid to host the Global Service Delivery Model (GSDM) plan as recommended by the UN secretary-general.

The $64 million (Sh6.4 billion) plan intends to move 750 administrative office jobs from the UN’s main duty stations to four new centralised centres in Nairobi, Budapest, Montreal and Shenzhen.

Kenya is thus lobbying for more UN offices to be brought to the Gigiri headquarters in what the government hopes will create more jobs and boost the real estate sectors.

A 2004 study by the UN Development Programme found that the UN contributed US$ 350m (Sh36bn). The amount has since increased.

For instance, the country receives approximately $10.34 million (Sh1bn) in rental premiums from residential houses in areas popular with the UN international staff, such as Runda, Gigiri, Muthaiga, Spring Valley, Nyari and Riverside.

More UN offices may mean more jobs to locals and will improve money flow. But critics of the move said the UN is moving to developing countries because they have cheaper labour compared to Europe or the US.

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