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Why Kenya is fighting hard to put Amina Mohamed at the helm of Africa Union

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By WAINAINA NDUNG'U | January 30th 2017
President Uhuru Kenyatta in consultation with Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed. (Photo: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard)

Kenya has gone all out in its bid to have Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed elected to head the Africa Union Commission.

Pundits in diplomatic circles say the country’s push to have Ms Mohamed at the helm of AU has much to do with the ripple effect of the now collapsed International Criminal Court (ICC) charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

According to Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi, Ms Mohamed had proved a strong force in arguing Kenya’s case at the ICC.

“Because of the ICC case, the Uhuruto government kicked off a strong Pan African agenda and Ms Amina pursued the goal expertly and with major successes. If elected the chairperson of the AU Commission, she will be some sort of a foreign minister for Africa, this will give Kenya good visibility and attract foreign investment,” said Mr Murungi.

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Murungi said Amina had the best credentials to restore Africa’s dignity after her achievements at the ICC, which now faces mass withdrawal by a number of states

Prof Macharia Munene, a History lecturer at the University States International University - Africa (USIU-A), said Amina was the most competent and qualified candidate to push the African agenda.

“Being at the helm of AU, Kenya gets the feel-good factor but is also sure its interests will not be hurt,” says Prof Munene, who gave Amina between 45 and 55 per cent chance of getting elected.

He said the fact that Kenya had proposed the foreign secretary at a point where there was a stalemate on the chairperson’s election had driven a forceful campaign for her election.

 Kenya has argued that being a foreign secretary, she will hit the ground running in addressing the most pressing issues in the continent including terrorism, war and post-election conflicts.

Her experience in World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations as the chair of the ministerial conference will allow her to build Africa’s voice in multilateral trade negotiations and agreements.

Foreign affairs Cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed speaks during United Nations Conference on Trade and Development conference at KICC in July 2016. (Photo: Beverlyne Musili/Standard)

Kenya further argues that Amina’s intimate knowledge of the International Criminal Court will make Africa to be treated with more respect by the global court.

A former deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment programme, Amina was a steady guide for Africa in the signing of climate change agreements.

This is the first time since independence that Kenya has gone all-out to try and place one of its own at the helm of African states.

According to Blaine Harden in Africa: Dispatches From a Fragile Continent, former presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki largely pursued a domestic agenda, paying little attention attention to Pan Africanism.

This enabled Kenya to outpace her peers in the first three decades of independence while remaining internally stable - the island of peace in a troubled region.

Peter Kagwanja, a political strategist and chief executive of Africa Policy Institute, says Ms Amina’s contention for the AU top post fitted well with a pre-election pledge by Uhuru to consolidate Kenya’s position in the African continent.

“Kenya is a superpower in Africa. It has to lead from the front and she (Amina) will raise the country’s flag at the continent and at the international level,” he said.

Prof Kagwanja said Kenya’s vision was to be a central pillar in shaping the future of Africa, and chairing the AU would be a fitting pedestal to do that.

Throwing its weight behind Amina, East African Business Council (EABC) cited her role in negotiating crucial trade deals.

EABC chairperson Audace Ndayizeye said the CS’s promotion of global trade had increased anti-retroviral medication for Africa through the intellectual property rights agreement and negotiations for the elimination of export subsidies.

While hoping that its diplomatic offensive that has seen it send emissaries all over Africa will bear fruit and clinch victory for Amina, Kenya is keeping its fingers crossed because of a number of factors.

Somalia and Egypt have publicly said they will vote for Kenya, but in the complex AU voting system, most countries are likely to take their cue from their regional groupings, such as the East African Community (EAC) Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) or Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS).

Another factor is that Kenya has relatively senior representation at the AU, with Erastus Mwencha as one of the deputy chairpersons. The career diplomat  from Kisii was for a long period the secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

For a brief period between the exit of Jean Ping and the ascendancy of Nkosozana Dlamini Zuma, Mr Mwencha acted as AU’s chair.

Amina will be facing off with Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, Moussa Faki Mahamat from Chad, Agapito Mba Mokuy from Equatorial Guinea and Botswana’s Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.

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