Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Monica Juma, spoke to Pamella Sittoni about the country’s position in the region’s economy, stability and the recent travel advisory against South Sudan.
Your key assignment is to project and protect Kenya’s image in the world. Given the current state of the country, are you confident it is an image you want to sell to the world?
I feel very confident and I’m very excited to have this opportunity. Kenya has achieved a certain identity — one of a very fast transforming country, and we’ve done this in peacetime. Everybody says they look at us with admiration because of what we have achieved, even in the context of what looks like an unstable, fragile region.
The International Criminal Court has played a major role in Kenya’s foreign policy. What is the country’s position on the ICC, now that the Kenyan cases are no longer before it?
We have always promoted engagement internationally, guided by a predictable rule-based system. The contestation between us and the ICC was in terms of a number of issues that we saw as falling outside the parameters of the Rome Statute — from the threshold of how investigations were being deployed.
We have raised matters around reforms within the conference of State Parties, and we have made certain proposals, which we hope could be adhered to. Some of these proposals have also been made within the African context, because we think they are necessary in order to inject a parameter that is just, fair for all.
So, yes we’re members of the Rome Statute, but during a summit of the African Union, a decision was taken that in the event the changes that are sought by the African membership of the ICC are not made, there might be consideration for a mass pull-out from the ICC.
What are some of the proposals?
One of the big contentious issues then was the application of the international law principle of immunity for sitting presidents. It is in domestic institutions. There are also a number of other reforms we want, in terms of an oversight mechanism against the office of the prosecutor.
Is the East African Community integration agenda on course, or are member states getting more protectionist?
I don’t think we’re being protectionist. I think everybody in the East African Community appreciates that by ourselves we form a very small market in a very global world. Until and unless we come together, we’re unlikely to accrue the benefits of the global opportunities that exist. So the East African Community is set to stay.
Some of the issues to be discussed at the EAC Summit are infrastructure, we’re having a discussion on the EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreement) which we continue to urge the member states that have not signed to sign off.
We’ve had a lot of discussion towards this and we’re hopeful that it will happen. For us, it is important in terms of access to the European market. So, it might have slowed down in certain aspects but the vision of the EAC stands in terms of integrating us. I do not see a challenge because we’ll all moving towards integration, rather than disintegration. The imperative of the time is pushing us towards a shared prosperity.
Your ministry incubates diplomats, but we are increasingly seeing the appointment of political appointees as ambassadors and high commissioners. What is your view of the appointment of ‘outsiders’ to those dockets?
Well, there’s no outsider who is a Kenyan. But more important, there’s no person who’s just appointed and deployed to a mission. Since the nominees were named, we have been going through a rigorous process of induction. It is specific to the mission, and in terms of the expectations. We draw out targets with them. So there’s nobody who’s deployed to fail.
It is not necessarily the case that if you’ve not been in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you cannot be a good ambassador. Throughout the world, heads of state deploy people outside (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). It is really about infusing new ideas, but it is also the sense that the president has confidence that a certain person will deliver on his vision. That is what ambassadors do: They’re envoys of the president.
Does that disadvantage the officers who have grown in the system?
No. All the time, in any ministry of foreign affairs, we are always trying to balance between what you’re calling political appointees and career diplomats. And the ratios vary. There’s no mission that has only political appointees. We always have teams that work under any ambassador or high commissioner to help engage with the host country or agency of accreditation, and to support the delivery of the foreign policy in that station.
In his inauguration speech last year President Kenyatta announced visas on arrival for all Africans. How far has Kenya gone in making this a reality?
It has started. Some people are still going to the e-visa but nobody has been turned away upon arriving in Kenya because they have not acquired a visa. There are some countries, which we had been calling referral countries.
The Department of Immigration has been working hard to create the right mechanisms so that even as we open up, we have the ability to reduce any risk that might be associated with certain countries. So, there’s still some work with regards to some countries, but overall, the directive of the president is that we are opening up for Africans.
The logic for this is that President Kenyatta’s foreign policy is hinged on Pan-Africanism. The whole question of Pan-African ideology, which was driven by one humanity of the African descent: That is the ideological underpinning of this.
The logic to this is that the wealth and prosperity of this continent lies in this continent. As we speak now, intra-Africa trade is still standing at 12 per cent, and the argument is, if we’re going to realise Vision 2063 of a prosperous, peaceful Africa, then we have to take measures and decisions to allow for the movement of people and goods and services, and we cannot do that with shut-down borders.
There’s an AU protocol on free movement now, but President Kenyatta decided that, even as we negotiate, he will open up this country for Africans.
How will the government ensure that Kenyans too can visit other African countries as freely?
We have been talking to a number of countries. In fact there has been momentum towards finalisation of the protocol on free movement of people. My message to Kenyans is not to feel frustrated because opening up of borders does not translate into risks or disadvantages for us. It translates into opportunities as well.
We still continue to negotiate access for Kenyans in some countries. I know South Africa is one of the countries Kenyans have been talking about. In the past two years since I came to the ministry, we’ve done a lot of work on South Africa.
The first difficult area has been the student visas, because we have a large number of Kenyans studying in South Africa. Now, we have secured an agreement with South Africa, that they will issue a visa for the duration of the child’s study. When the child changes schools, they are now allowed to change their status within South Africa.
Initially they were required to travel back to Kenya to do that. There is the whole area of other types of visas and some frustration around the time period within which a visa is processed. We’re working to reduce the period of application for the visa to make it easy for Kenyans to travel to South Africa.
You’ve mentioned benchmarking on Cuba on universal healthcare. How are you fitting the rest of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda (besides manufacturing, affordable housing and food security) into the foreign policy?
Before the pronouncement of the Big Four Agenda, a lot of work had gone into identifying these issues. We have already begun to engage in a mapping exercise of the world, to look at what is the competitive advantage across the world on any of the Big Four.
We have had reflections, our ambassadors have been busy identifying the key factors that will help us. If it is in low cost housing we have a good idea about the existing technologies, the cost of production in those parts of the world, and so as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we are in a position to advise the government in terms of the appropriate technologies and where these can be found. We’re also in a position to negotiate the best available option out there.
Your most recent big assignment was securing the release of the two Kenyan pilots who had been held hostage in South Sudan after their airplane crashed. What did it take?
A lot of talking. A lot of negotiation. The two pilots had flown a humanitarian mission into Akobo in light of the December 2106 agreement to allow humanitarian access. So when we learnt of their capture by the local administration, we were very surprised.
We soon learnt that one of them was not well and so we got into negotiations, first of all, to make sure he got medical assistance, and secondly, to begin to negotiate for their release. We were very lucky to get the Red Cross to co-operate with us so that they could help us ascertain their state of health on a day-to-day basis. It was six weeks of anxiety.
We’ve expressed our deep disappointment, particularly because of the role that Kenya has been playing in trying to resolve the conflicts in South Sudan.
And because of that, we have issued a travel advisory to Kenyans in relation to a number of areas that we consider unstable. Regrettably, because some of the parties to the agreements within South Sudan refused to respect the cessation of hostilities that was signed in December.
Britain too has issued an advisory to its citizens on traveling to Kenya. What is your take on this?
If you go to the British government web page you will see it is almost a normal practice to issue travel advisories. We border Somalia and we’ve seen an appetite for these terrorists to go beyond the Somalia borders, including in this country as we witnessed in Westgate (mall attack) and other places.
Last week, there was a report that indicated the foiling of a planned terror attack in the city centre. This is a cautionary note by the British government. We have told them that we do not agree with the assessment they have made because you cannot say: “There was a foiled attack, therefore, there’s a problem.” It just seems illogical to a certain extent. But there are countries that are required by law to issue advisories to their citizens.
We have a very broad security co-operation framework and some of these discussions we are carrying them through with them so that they do not aid the appetite of terrorism by hurting us.
It has taken too long for IGAD to resolve the conflicts in South Sudan, Burundi and Somalia — and now there’s a crisis in Ethiopia. What will Kenya do differently to bring stability to the region?
One of the pillars of our foreign policy is the pursuit of resolution of conflicts through peaceful means. We have been engaged — right from 1960, before our independence, in the first UN peace keeping mission in the DR Congo. And since that time we have deployed over 44 missions across the world.
In the past 20 or so years we have been intimately engaged in the search for peace process in Burundi, Rwanda, in DR Congo; and closer home, in Somalia. The government of Somalia was birthed in Kenya, as was that of South Sudan.
We were the guarantors of the peace process of South Sudan, and we have continued to help that country stabilise. Even the agreement that arose out of the negotiations after the conflict in 2016, we were quite central to pushing the parties to sign this agreement. And we remain seized of it.
In Somalia, we have been engaged throughout until the deployment of Amisom in 2011. And that is the role we shall continue to play.
Meanwhile, we have been appealing to the rest of the global community, whether in Africa or in the world, because the search for peace is a responsibility for all. Another role for IGAD is to continue to urge focused attention on this region, because there are many other regions that are competing for global attention.
What’s your view of the recent political developments in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ethiopia where heads of state have been forced to step down?
The good news is we have seen in those three cases, that the people of Zimbabwe, of South Africa, of Ethiopia are managing their transition. We feel very reassured that we have got to a point where countries can transform themselves without necessarily depending on outsiders, who often complicate a situation like this. There’s nothing wrong with people saying: “We don’t want this leader; this is the leader we want.” That is their prerogative.
Does Brexit affect Kenya’s relationship with the UK?
It does. So, for this reason we have been engaging with the UK the moment the referendum happened.
A couple of weeks ago, the Secretary for International Development was here, and we had a very intense discussion on post-Brexit. We’ve agreed that as a country of interest to us, we will create a joint mechanism to really begin the discussion around Brexit and its implications for us.
They can’t begin negotiating with countries, according to the EU framework. They will have to wait until they invoke Article 50, which they will do in March next year.
But we’ve already begun the discussions to prepare ourselves ahead of invocation of Article 50. Both sides agree that it is important not to disrupt our trade relations. We all agree that we must negotiate a framework that deepens those relations, and grows them.