The Covid-19 outbreak has hit Kenya's State House hard, forcing President Uhuru Kenyatta to cancel two high-profile diplomatic events – a border security cooperation meeting in Mombasa Sunday and a trip to the Vatican.
President Kenyatta had been expected to travel to the Vatican in Rome, Italy, from March 10 to 14 where it was expected he would have met with Pope Francis. An advance team was already in Rome, Italy, when the trip was called off after Italy decreed a total lockdown due to the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic.
FIRST VATICAN TRIP
This would have been the first trip to the Vatican for the President.
A letter seen by the Nation written by Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Italian Embassy in Nairobi indicated the President would have been in Rome from March 10 to 14. The letter was seeking clearance for the President’s advance team.
The advance team had already left the country on March 2 while another was scheduled to leave on March 6.
Sources indicated the second team did not leave the country and the first one was ordered back after it became increasingly clear that the President’s trip was untenable.
The aborted trip comes at a time Kenya has suspended all travel outside the country unless necessary as well as public gatherings.
Pope Francis himself retreated from public engagements on February 27 in what Vatican termed “slight indisposition”.
He had been seen coughing and sneezing a day after he had hugged pilgrims who throng the Vatican grounds every day.
On Monday this week, Italy, the worst affected country in Europe, ordered a total countrywide lockdown.
The Italian government ordered all its citizens to stay at home as it struggled with the runaway statistics.
According to the World Health Organisation, Italy, as of March 14, had 17,660 confirmed cases and 1,268 deaths.
Meanwhile, a Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia tripartite meeting that was to be hosted by President Kenyatta at State House, Mombasa today (Sunday) has also been called off.
President Kenyatta was expected to host Somalia President Mohamed Farmaajo and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at State House Mombasa over the deteriorating relations between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
This meeting was cancelled at the last-minute on Friday, hours after both Kenya and Ethiopia confirmed the first cases of coronavirus. Both countries cancelled international meetings planned for their respective capitals.
The cancellation notifications sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to both Somalia and Ethiopia, and seen by the Nation, however simply indicated the tripartite meeting was being cancelled “due to unavoidable intervening circumstances”.
“It will not be possible for the Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia Tripartite Summit to take place as earlier scheduled on March 16, 2020,” the Foreign ministry indicated.
The meeting had been in the works for the past one week, the fruit of President Kenyatta’s special envoy Fred Matiang’i, following tensions between Somalia and Kenya over alleged violation of territorial integrity 10 days ago.
Dr Matiang’i, who is also Interior Cabinet Secretary, had been sent to Mogadishu and later Addis Ababa to specially invite the two country’s leaders for what sources termed a tripartite meeting in Nairobi “on border security cooperation”.
It was a rapprochement experts said could help heal the simmering mistrust between the two countries.
Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, who heads the Southlink Consultants think-tank, told the Nation that the conference of three leaders was necessary to show the public there is cooperation between the countries.
“That is a step in the right direction. Both leaders must cool down the tension at any cost because Somalia and Kenya must be friends, not foes,” Abdisamad said.