One of the reasons why the United Nations (UN) established its Resident Coordinators (RCs) was to ensure that the business of the UN is coordinated through one office.
This would ensure sustainability and efficiency while making it nimbler, delivering as one, leaving no one behind, and remaining relevant and accountable. The RCs were also the UN’s answer to member States’ demands on UN agencies to be more coordinated. Previously UN agencies were operating directly with Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of member States.
That way, the MDAs and the Office of the President in many countries, spent all their working week meeting different UN agencies and International Organisations (IOs).
For example, there are over 30 UN agencies and even more missions, UN members are 193, and several other IOs are based in Kenya.
Directly dealing with MDAs that are not well versed with the Vienna Convention and not updated on what is going on in multilateral stations, can be a tall order.
In addition, some MDAs, relevant to these foreign missions, agencies, and IOs will be swamped with meetings and may not have the relevant capacity to efficiently respond to all the attendant demands.
Imagine if just the UN agencies were to go directly to the Ministry of Environment to discuss some environmental treaty negotiations, how would the ministry articulate Kenya’s foreign policy on the negotiations or even the position of the Kenya delegation without coordinating with the diplomats on the ground doing the negotiations?
My experience in a multilateral station is that, in fact, it is the MDAs who caused delays when we sought their support and interventions through MFA to provide guidance and technical support.
Their standard response for the delays was inadequate capacity or lack of necessary policy knowledge on the matters in question, thereby requiring more consultations. I believe nothing has changed.
Lastly, there are countries whose diplomats already have access to and familiarity with many MDAs and especially with Cabinet Secretaries because of their countries’ other vested interests like the military and having big corporations and businesses in Kenya. These find it easier to deal directly with MDAs.
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Yet, there are also small countries, that may not invest much in Kenya and who under the Vienna Convention have equal entitlements but some MDAs may see “no” immediate benefit in meeting with these countries’ representatives and may delay giving them appointments, and this may strain our diplomatic relations.
The MFDA may be bureaucratic or even appear inefficient, but it is still the right place through which diplomatic relations and businesses should be transacted.
The final part of the latest directive is bizarre. It appears that the MFDA is not only ceding its bilateral and multilateral relations coordination function, but it will also be completely in the dark regarding United Nations, IOs, and UNON business if it cedes its multilateral coordination to the office of the Deputy President.
I may only have seven years of experience in multilateral diplomacy but they are enough to leave no doubt in my mind about how intricate diplomatic relations are and how critically urgent and important that they should be properly handled and in accordance with a well-known policy and the Vienna Convention. Whichever way one looks at this directive, many questions abound. I can’t help wondering from where Kenya’s diplomats in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and UNON will seek guidance and report.
During the UN General Assembly every year, a number of resolutions and agreements are negotiated that relate directly to various MDAs. If MFDA is not directly coordinating these, and instead it is the Office of the Deputy President; will the latter establish a Directorate of Multilateral Affairs to do what a similar directorate was doing at MFDA?
This directive has many implications and therefore requires a great deal of urgent clarity. Our national interests are at stake and every minute counts. We should be careful not to sacrifice our diplomacy at the altar of political expediency.