Revisit Kenya's diplomatic policy for consistency and better results

President William Ruto. [PCS]

A Note Verbale (NV) this week clarifying reorganisation of the Federal Republic of Somalia government spotlights the process of diplomatic appointments.

Diplomatic relations means the arrangement between two countries by which each has representatives. These representatives can be Ambassadors/High Commissioners in a full diplomatic arrangement or Consul Generals to help and advise Kenyan citizens living or traveling overseas, mainly concerned with travel documents.

There are various types of diplomacy these days, depending on how each country is endowed. These include Public Diplomacy, Economic Diplomacy, Cultural Diplomacy, Science and technology Diplomacy, Space and Cyber Diplomacy, Energy Diplomacy, Education Diplomacy, falling into two broad categories of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy.

Diplomacy is the art of establishing friendly and good relationships; bilateral or multilateral using tact, great listening skills, and mutual respect to find areas of mutual agreement and consensus.

The legal framework governing diplomatic relations is rooted in international treaties and agreements the main one being the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1964, which entered into force on 24 April 1964.

Kenya domesticated this convention wholesale in the First Schedule of the Privileges and Immunities Act, Cap 179 [2019]. We developed our Foreign Policy in 2014, based on Peace, Economic, Diaspora, Environmental, and Cultural Diplomacy Pillars incorporating specific implementation strategies. Our Foreign Policy informs other countries how they should relate to Kenya with regard to specific issues. For long, our position on the situation of Palestine and the Western Sahara, was unknown. We also had a third-country policy in relation to conflicts.

There are generally two categories of Ambassadors/High Commissioners; “career diplomats,” those who have risen in ranks within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, some of whom joined as cadets and have not worked anywhere else, and “political appointees.”

They are all appointed by the Head of State/Government in accordance with the laws of each country. In most countries, there is a great effort to balance between “career” and “political” appointees, and in fact, some diplomatic stations were reserved specifically for one of the two, permanently.

Most countries, identify their appointees based on established criteria and deploy them based on specific interests and objectives they want to achieve through that deployment. This is why, in the case of an appointment to a bilateral station, before the names of appointees are made public, the two countries, sending/receiving engage in discussions about the credentials of the appointees involved.

Some countries will insist on experienced ambassadors/High Commissioners or people of a certain age and calibre.

This is why the NV to the Federal Republic of Somalia was an interesting development and rare communication because of the nature of the clarification made. This though is not peculiar to this government, although there have been some serious diplomatic faux pas in the recent past with no end in sight.

In the past, we saw in the media, lists of appointees designated to various stations, having their stations changed at the last minute. This may have been a result of the receiving countries preferring other appointees instead of those designated by the appointing authority.

Perhaps it is time the appointment of ambassadors/High Commissioners and Consul Generals is revisited and clear and public criteria specified so that we safeguard our foreign policy and ensure consistency.

We also need to determine what we want to achieve through these appointments so that Kenya reaps the most benefits from all aspects and pillars of diplomacy while guaranteeing a great position of international regard and respect for the President and Kenyans.

Kenya has some of the best diplomats in the world. Many are retired today but their experience, wisdom, and knowledge are invaluable and should be harnessed.

These people should not be allowed to retire, instead, like in other countries, they should be fully engaged in various diplomatic endeavours for Kenya.