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Amina Mohamed: Popular abroad, betrayed at home

By Nzau Musau | Published Sun, February 4th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 3rd 2018 at 22:52 GMT +3
From FOREIGN AFFAIRS to EDUCATION CS... stabbed in the back?

When she darted out of the magnificent Nelson Mandela auditorium at the Africa Union headquarters in Addis Ababa last week on Thursday afternoon, she found herself attracting more than enough share of attention.

Resplendent in classy black dress, matching pants and flashing her trademark smile, and dimples to boot, delegates scurried after her as she descended down the stairs.

They literally made a beeline for her as Kenya’s ambassador in Ethiopia Catherine Mwangi shoved some aside, but in her majesty, she beckoned them all to a warm embrace.

It was either a hug or a peck, and a congratulation to top it all. Sometimes the three. Her two aides rushed after her on the sides, stopping to wait on her.

This is the conundrum of a popular and easy CS on the international scene but weighed down at home by suspicion, back-stabbing and betrayal from those who ought to trust her.

When Amina Mohammed walked into the AU auditorium that day, very few knew of the knife hanging on her back in Nairobi. In naming the Cabinet Secretaries he was retaining on January 5, President Uhuru Kenyatta had left her dangling dangerously on the edge of her career.

Plucked from a UN Assistant Secretary General job in 2013 to do the bidding for Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto when they were dragged down by the International Criminal Court (ICC) shackles, Amina thrust herself into international political limelight with abandon.

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She staked out her all -- reputable career in diplomacy, quiet life, family and all -- to defend the “dynamic duo” when The Hague-based court was coming after them hammer and tongs.

So much so that she became the poster-girl of a carefully crafted anti-ICC campaign that roped in international lobby groups and regional propagandists like the burly Ugandan David Matsanga. At the height of it, one could say she never slept a wink.

With a tight itinerary that included flying to world capitals to lobby powerful men to cast their lot with the scion of the Burning Spear of Africa as Matsanga and company punched beneath, she was literary riding high.

In those times, she had direct access to the President and his deputy. Many considered her a powerful lady within the inner sanctum of the presidency, usually a preserve of men.

She appeared on premier television shows -- booked in advance by backroom lobbyists doing Kenyatta’s bidding -- sometimes coming out a smart alec, other times bullish or simply clueless.

In an October 26 appearance at Al Jazeera’s Upfront with Mehdi Hassan, she played so tough that the interviewer more or less gave up on her describing her as a “hard lady”. Amina in turn described the interview a “monologue”- all on live set.

An independent commentator described her as “a ninja at dogging questions.”

A dodger or not, Amina went on to put up a hard bargain for Kenyan on the international forums. And it seemed to have paid off.

‘Hard lady’

A stream of high profile visitors and global events began to flow the Nairobi way- US President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, World Trade Organisation’s 10th ministerial conference, 14th Session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).

At the ICC, and with the help of African Union, she forced significant concessions from the court, including but not limited to trial in absence of the accused and amendment of rules to fit a situation.

Ultimately, she slayed the ICC dragon with the collapse of the cases against the pair, one after the other. It was a coup de grace against the international system!

And just like they say first mouthed to be last swallowed, she begun to lose relevance. With the ICC boogie called to a halt, Amina was thrust right into the mix of the pitiless stream of Kenyan politics.

Some within government circles began to view her purely through the prism of her ethnic identity. Murmurs of an alleged Somali capture of the state apparatus gained traction.

When the heat was turned on the government on the fate of four Kenyans detained in South Sudan, she was offered to fry in the pan - accused of not offering timely and correct diplomatic brief on what was needed to free them.

Never mind that she eventually facilitated their release albeit after two years in ruthless Juba jails.

Last year, when the Mexico maize scandal erupted, Amina was roped in over purported “diplomatic” delay to facilitate the shipment before it erupted in the court of public opinion.

In the corridors of power, tales were told of alleged countless and vain calls made to her and her auxiliaries before the shipment took off in South African waters.

And so by the time the elections were being done, she was damaged goods in the eyes of the power brokers who saw her as a stumbling block to sweet international trade deals.

Many did not give her a chance of a come-back and President Kenyatta did not help when he left her out of the original list of the CS’s he was retaining. When she was eventually named, she was a second choice.

“It’s a pleasant surprise,” she said in Addis Ababa.

Indeed it must have been a pleasant surprise. Like her boss at the Justice docket when she served as a Permanent Secretary, the late Mutula Kilonzo, she was thrown into the deep end of the country’s expansive and complicated docket of Education, possibly, to hang herself.

Whether she will sink into the oblivion or disprove those who set her up is for time to tell. For now, the education world is her oyster.?

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