Kenya's envoy to S. Korea takes up job, settling dual nationality question

Thursday February 18 2021
Mwende Mwinzi.

Kenya’s Ambassador to South Korea Mwende Mwinzi presents her credentials to South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House on February 17, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY


Kenya’s ambassador to South Korea Mwende Mwinzi presented her credentials to the host head of state on Wednesday, settling a debate that raged for nearly two years over her nomination.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry on Wednesday announced that Ms Mwinzi was among eight foreign diplomats who presented their letters of credence to President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House in Seoul, signalling their full start of work as ambassadors.

A photo later published by the ministry showed Ms Mwinzi posing with President Moon and South Korean Minister for Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong.

Dual nationals

Ms Mwinzi has closed a long debate on dual nationals, especially Kenyans born of Kenyan parents abroad.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta nominated her in May 2019 — alongside other candidates for ambassadorial nominations — the issue of her US nationality had not cropped up.


But the National Assembly, which approved her qualification, said she must renounce her second nationality before taking up the post.

“Look at my life, from adulthood, everything has been Kenya-bound,” she told Parliament during vetting.

The MPs retained the caveat proposed by the Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations chaired by Mr Katoo ole Metito, however, and the report that approved other nominees meant that as others were approved and posted to their respective stations, Ms Mwinzi’s appointment letter was subject to parliamentary check of her nationality. However, South Korea had already accepted her appointment.

National Assembly sued

The tug-of-war would reach the High Court. Ms Mwinzi sued the National Assembly, seeking to have MPs barred from forcing her to renounce a nationality she said was acquired without her control.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the US, Ms Mwinzi, 50, told the court that being born of a Kenyan father and an American mother in the US meant she was technically a citizen by birth both in Kenya and in the US. She could not opt out.

In November 2019, she seemed to have scored victory after the High Court ruled that she cannot be forced to renounce her US citizenship as it was acquired by birth. But the same judge said Parliament was legally right to question her commitment to defending the country’s security interests, given the ambassador is the representative of the President abroad. Justice James Makau ruled that the court could not force the government to deploy her as her vetting process involved parliamentary approval.

“It is in the public interest that the process should be allowed to be completed,” the judge ruled then.

In his ruling, Justice Makau said the nominee falls within the category of Article 78(3)(b), which exempts persons who have been made citizens of another country by operation of that country’s law, without the ability to opt out.

All that time, the Foreign Affairs ministry had insisted she was not a diplomat yet.

Not among State officers

Kenya’s Constitution does not list ambassadors or high commissioners among State officers, the category of public officers who must renounce their foreign nationality before taking up Kenyan government appointments.

The National Assembly, however, argued that the portfolio held by ambassadors demanded that they hold total allegiance to Kenya. Ms Mwinzi had told MPs that she was fully committed to Kenya and serving the President who had nominated her.

Her deployment was Wednesday night exciting other Kenyans staying or working abroad.

Prof Makau Mutua, Sunday Nation columnist and SUNY Distinguished professor, said he was elated to see her take up the position, “a big win for Kenya and her diaspora”.

MPs had earlier vowed to appeal the High Court decision, arguing the ruling had been vague.