Ministry of Foreign Affairs oppose calls to slash number of embassies abroad

Members of Parliament in past parliamentary proceedings. [File, Standard]

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has opposed calls to have the number of embassies abroad reduced.

Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo in a statement said diplomatic Missions are not just about economic targets but also promote peaceful political positions in other countries and engage in collaborative global endeavours.

Omamo said Kenya’s success in being both a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as well as the Human Rights Council (HRC) reflect the ability of Kenya to project diplomatic and influence prowess into the world and leverage these aspects for global stability and national development.

Her sentiments come after a parliamentary advisory team last week urged Nairobi to cut the number of embassies and hire foreigners for the country’s diplomatic work.

The Parliament Budget Office (PBO), in its calls, said reducing the embassies will play a key role in lowering the cost of rent and hosting diplomats abroad.

The team argued that despite having 61 missions, including consulates and liaison offices which are spread across the five continents, Kenyan ambassadors have failed to increase the country’s trade in those countries.

PBO said despite the expansion of Kenya’s footprint across the globe, the destination of Kenya’s exports has remained narrow with only 12 countries accounting for 70 per cent of total exports in 2020.

The team further said in view of limited resources the government should consider reviewing foreign missions with a preference of appointing citizens of those countries to act on Kenya’s behalf.

“Honorary Consuls offer an efficient diplomatic channel of increasing a country’s diplomatic network as they are cost-effective than fully-fledged missions because of the lower costs attached to maintain Honorary Consuls as they serve for free and only require reimbursed f expenses incurred in offering their services,” PBO said.

But Omamo said while representation by foreign Honorary Consuls may make “economic sense”, in no way does premising a country’s diplomatic representation dominantly on Honorary Consuls speak to the power of in-person presence by nationals of the country.

“It is imperative to understand that diplomatic practice is strongly linked to presence, trust, negotiation and interpersonal interactions which are facilitated by having diplomatic missions in host countries,” she said.

The CS said for Kenya to benefit from the immense opportunities that diplomacy portends, its foreign relations must be matched by robust diplomatic engagement and presence.

“It is important to understand that sound economic performance and development do not happen in a vacuum. They require an enabling political and security environment and intense global cooperation and multilateral collaboration,” said Omamo.

She said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is Kenya’s primary interlocutor with the outside world, continues to manage these interactions.

Omamo said Kenya’s diplomatic missions are key in enhancing Kenya’s economic diplomacy, which is one of the 5 pillars of Kenya’s Foreign Policy alongside the peace, diaspora, cultural and environmental diplomacy pillars.

According to her, the promotion and facilitation of Kenya’s trade is one of the key functions Kenya’s diplomatic missions are entrusted with.

She said these missions also undertake a broader function in favour of Kenya’s economic competitiveness.

“They promote Kenya as a business and investment destination and a gateway to the rest of Africa, organize and facilitate trade fairs and elaborate on Kenya’s business environment as well as the country’s fiscal and monetary policies and procedures for investment in the country,” she said.

Omamo said these missions also facilitate the Kenyan diaspora.

She argued that members of the Kenyan diaspora over time continue to contribute heavily to Kenya’s economy and development through investment, remittances, skills transfer, philanthropy, among others.

“Undoubtedly, the visibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is high both nationally and internationally and this includes, its place on national spending,” she said.

The CS said a closer look into budgetary allocations to the different Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies demonstrates that in the 2021-22 Financial Year budget, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was allocated only Sh18.2 billion, the Ministry of Defence was allocated Sh294.5 billion, Ministry of Health Sh121.1 billion, Ministry of Education Sh202. 8 billion, Ministry of Transport Sh182.5 billion and the Ministry of Agriculture Sh60 billion.

This, to her, is a very modest allocation for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She said as of today, Kenya has 56 diplomatic missions abroad, two Missions in Nairobi and 31 Honorary Consuls across the world.

“Our diplomatic representations are located in top destinations in line with Kenya’s strategic interests, including economic interests,” she said.