By the time Dr Monica Juma, Kenya’s candidate for the Commonwealth withdrew from the race to be the next Secretary-General, a campaign schedule had been arranged to tour the Caribbean region.
The trip to the Caribbean, one Kenyan diplomat told The EastAfrican on Thursday, would have been an important one because the region and Africa had combined forces to back the incumbent Patricia Scotland. The 19 African members of the Commonwealth had only recently, through the African Union, endorsed Dr Juma’s bid, cementing her as a favourite. When she quit the race last week, the trip meant for this weekend was cancelled.
“Her decision came as a surprise to the Ministry, and the Commonwealth,” explained the Kenyan official in Nairobi, speaking on the background.
“Kenyan High Commissioners complained that they were not consulted or fully briefed. They have had to scramble to clean the egg on their faces.”
According to a diplomatic note issued to 54 members of the Commonwealth, Kenya said it had received reasonable backing from a number of members. But it said the candidate will not compete in the June elections because there are those adamant not to back her.
“It has also become apparent that some member states of the Commonwealth are uncomfortable and/or unwilling to provide their support for our candidate,” the note dated February 15 and seen by The EastAfrican says.
“In essence, this means that we have not coalesced consensus among all the member states, a situation that could precipitate a raucous campaign that could fracture rather than cohere the Commonwealth family.”
The Commonwealth, which is a grouping of the UK and its former colonies, as well as Rwanda and Mozambique is often colloquially referred to be as the 'Club'. Its voting decisions for the Secretary-General are often by consensus, which means that all member states have to agree on a candidate to win.
Ms Scotland, a British national with Caribbean roots, won in 2015 largely by rallying African and Caribbean countries to back her. But she had been having trouble convincing bigger donors like Canada, Australia and New Zealand to back her ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Kigali, Rwanda in June.
Initially, the UK itself had quietly fronted Kenya’s Amina Mohamed, the Sports Cabinet Secretary. But after the meeting originally scheduled for June 2020 was delayed twice by Covid-19, Ms Mohamed also lost the contest at the World Trade Organisation, where she had contested to be Director-General.
Last year in August, President Uhuru Kenyatta nominated Dr Juma, saying she “will help bolster unity amongst the Commonwealth family, and also enhance innovative partnership that optimises the impact of our organisation.”
Last week, Kenya said it was still backing a change at the helm of the Commonwealth, suggesting it may back another emergent candidate ahead of the race.
“People trusted that President Uhuru Kenyatta knew what he was doing when he put her name forward. The Question is whether the President is comfortable with her quitting,” a Kenyan envoy to an African member of the Commonwealth told The EastAfrican.
“One other issue is Kenya may not be seen as too hungry to fill opportunities on international stage. Some members asked it to provide a candidate and it provided one unable to sustain the full race in the campaign.”
Neither State House nor Dr Juma herself have commented on the events. But some diplomats told The EastAfrican the race was going to be based on the personality differences between Dr Juma and Ms Scotland.