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Governor got it all wrong in ejecting UK diplomats

By Editorial | November 24th 2013

By Editorial

In the words of wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions”. The import of that statement is that there must be a civil way of communicating bad news. In deed, there must be a civil way of expressing displeasure.

But this week, Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno miserably failed the test of diplomacy. He stands condemned for his bravado while ejecting British High Commission Director of Political Affairs C. Sugden and two other British diplomats from an Eldoret hotel.

The deputy governor’s action is unacceptable to the extent that it sends the wrong signal to the people he leads. It sends the wrong signal to foreigners – both investors and visitors.

Coming as it does at a time when Kenya’s relations with her former colonial master are anything but cordial, the incident has the negative value of adding insult to injury.

Mr Chemno claims the British High Commission officials violated protocol by not informing the county government of their intended meeting with civil society officials from the North Rift. On the other hand, the British High Commission explains that it sent a “Note Verbale” to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informing it of the visit prior to seeking a meeting with the Governor. The officials later met the deputy governor and members of the County Assembly separately.

The High Commission says their intention was to organise activities such as sports to boost reconciliation efforts after meeting civil society activists, elders, youth representatives and religious leaders.

Now, without necessarily being sucked into the blame game of who was right and who was wrong, the confrontation could have been avoided.

By storming the meeting and ordering the diplomats out of the hotel, the deputy governor did not act in a manner that brings honour and dignity to the public office he occupies. And yet this is a basic constitutional requirement for public leadership.

He not only disrespected his county government, but also set a bad precedent. What if ordinary Kenyans were to follow in the footsteps of the deputy governor and disrespect every white person on grounds of protocol or any other flimsy excuses? Claims have been made that the diplomats were collecting evidence and recruiting new witnesses to testify against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto at the International Criminal Court. That is a dangerous path to walk.

The Deputy Governor should be alive to the sensitive nature of the Kenyan cases at The Hague and how matters could easily swirl out of control. Diplomacy demands that you avoid physical altercation even with people you do not see eye-to-eye. Still, looking at the bigger picture, Britain remains a key partner to Kenya’s social, political and economic growth. The links between the two countries go beyond the ongoing ICC cases. They extend to foreign trade, education, tourism and general welfare. There are thousands of Kenyans living in the UK and thousands of ordinary Britons resident in Kenya.

The current Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne while on a visit to Kenya, hence the ties are deep.

The treatment of foreigners in Kenya should be guarded and respectful. Only then can we demand the same treatment for the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans living, working and studying in Europe and other countries.

Ultimately, the government must use existing diplomatic structures to ensure a foreign policy that guarantees Kenya its pride of place among the community of civilised states.

The country must essentially lobby other nations to support a favourable process at the international court. Name-calling and embarrassing people suspected to hold divergent views is recipe for isolation and failure.

No country, even the most powerful, can survive on its own. State officers at the national and county governments must answer the all-important call of duty to deepen global partnerships and pursue mutual respect.

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