Kenya’s quest to clinch the top seat of the Commonwealth secretariat has got a boost after the African Union backed Nairobi’s candidate, Dr Monica Juma.
Dr Juma, currently the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, is seeking to become the next Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries including the UK, its former colonies, Mozambique and Rwanda.
A statement from Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday said the African Union’s backing signals support from the continent that usually votes as a bloc.
“Amb Monica Juma (DPhil), Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Energy, was endorsed for election as Secretary General of the Commonwealth at elections to be held in June 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda,” the statement said.
The endorsement could boost Dr Juma’s quest to be the Secretary General, ahead of the twice-postponed Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that is to be held in Kigali in the week beginning June 20.
However, the final communique of the African Union General Assembly’s meeting last week in Addis Ababa did not mention it.
The African Union doesn’t have a vote but there are 19 members of the continental bloc who are also members of the Commonwealth.
If they pick the cue and vote as a bloc, it could likely also split the voting pattern seen in 2015 when Africa and the Caribbean united to vote for Patricia Scotland, the incumbent.
Dr Juma was first endorsed by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year, calling her “an exemplar of what we in the Commonwealth hold.”
In a brochure she released in September, Dr Juma said she wants to change the perception of the Commonwealth as an organisation whose need is the past.
“I intend to deliver an effective secretariat, driven by member states priorities that optimise and draw from the diverse advantages and potential Commonwealth,” she says in the pitch.
“The Secretariat that I will lead will work with all Member States to bolster unity of the Commonwealth family to deal with common challenges such as fight climate change, debt relief and recovery, promotion of fair trade and investment, transnational organised crimes innovations, pandemics and epidemics, among many others.”
The Secretary-General is the spokesperson of the ‘Club’, as the Commonwealth is usually referred to, and could often convince or discourage donors from supporting programmes it runs.
Traditionally, richer nations have pooled resources for the Secretariat to implement programmes. Yet, as the world grows more multipolar and countries consider more of regional integration, the Commonwealth’s influence has waned.
Some richer countries have also threatened to stop funding its programmes unless tighter transparency is implemented.
In the last elections in 2015, incumbent Patricia Scotland was endorsed from the start by the African and Caribbean countries. She is a British citizen but born in Dominica, in the Caribbean. Her term was extended twice due to Covid-19 and she hasn’t announced whether she will be running for the post.
Usually, the Club votes by consensus, meaning all members must endorse a candidate to be declared winner. An opposing vote, even by one member, could mean the status quo is retained until all members agree on one candidate.
Meanwhile, a division between African Caribbean members means candidates must convince Asian members like India and Malaysia, as well as big donors like Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK itself.
So far, Dr Juma’s campaign has been using focus groups targeting specific regions.
Dr Juma initially served as Kenya’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti, and Permanent Representative to the African Union before 2013.
She was later appointed Principal Secretary in the Interior Ministry before she moved to the Defence ministry. She has also served as a Cabinet Secretary (CS) of Defence and of Foreign Affairs, before she was appointed the Energy CS.
This is her first contest for an international organisation.
President Kenyatta touted her as an experienced diplomat who can build consensus and establish better strategy for the organisation.
Dr Juma has been a key figure in President Kenyatta’s government.