Kenya: Will Kenyan FM Amina Mohamed's charm offensive deliver the AU post? (A News Analysis by Kennedy Abwao, PANA Correspondent)

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - Ambassador Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s foreign affairs Minister and candidate for the post of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), excites passion and criticism in equal measure for her rigorous approach to issues domestically, regionally and internationally.

Ambassador Mohamed, 55, has emerged as one of the front-runners in the race to succeed South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the next AU Chairperson when the election for the post takes place during the 28th session of the African Union Summit slated for 30-31 January 2017.

“I feel privileged to be nominated,” Ambassador Mohamed said in October 2016 when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced her candidacy for the position of the AU Chairperson. “I promise to do my best to serve the continent well.”  

Known to hardly mince her words when in pursuit of her goals, the career Kenyan diplomat shot to global fame in 2003 when she led the African diplomatic corps in Geneva, Switzerland, to call for a fair international trading arrangement in favour of Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Her diplomatic skills saw her galvanise all African diplomats to speak with a common voice on matters of international trade.  The lobbying led to the 2003 deadlock at the WTO ministerial conference in Mexico.

However, the negotiations culminated into a stronger case for the West African cotton producers who successfully pushed their case against lavish international spending by other cotton producing states such as the US. The US is currently being pushed to reduce huge farm subsidies on cotton.

At home, Ambassador Mohamed’s shuttle diplomacy, which led to an emergency Summit of the AU shortly after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election in 2013, launched the Kenyan campaign against the trial of President Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

She took the ICC campaign globally to the subsequent meetings of the State Parties to the Rome Statute, where Kenya and other African countries sought reforms in the trial of sitting heads of state and governments as well as senior public servants, among them, to allow for court appearance via video.

In 2015, Mohamed lobbied against the retroactive application of an amended Rule 68 of the Rome Statute, on the use of evidence already disowned by witnesses at the ICC.

The move was to ensure the ICC does not use evidence recanted by witnesses who pulled out of the ICC trial of Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua arap Sang over Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007/08.

A graduate of the University of Kiev, Ambassador Mohamed started her diplomatic career as a junior legal officer at the Kenyan foreign ministry.

She landed a posting to Kenya’s Permanent Mission in Geneva, where she made a mark as a top negotiator and a consensus builder, rising to the rank of a Permanent Representative.

Mohamed remains central to the clamour for an African Permanent seat at the UN Security Council spearheaded by the AU’s Committee of Ten on UN Reforms to reflect Africa’s influence on global affairs.

During the first and only debate for the contenders for the Chairperson’s post, the Kenyan diplomat said in her quest to deal with conflicts if elected to lead the continental body, she would focus on narrowing the inequality gaps within most states, deal with the scarcity of resources and fix the justice system.

“The AU has a good record in dealing with conflicts in Africa. We now have fewer than five countries engulfed in conflicts.  I think the AU has had tremendous success. Ours is to make sure that we can strengthen the systems already in place to deal with the conflicts,” Mohamed said.

Ambassador Mohamed proposes all the 54 AU member states to open foreign accounts with their respective central banks, what is commonly known as escrow accounts, to manage the funds obtained from special taxes, in order to finance the peace and security initiatives of the AU.

“We must be able to pay at least 20 percent of our peacekeeping bill. We must get this done. In Kenya, we are leading by example. We have already created an escrow account. It is useless to talk of vision 2020 for silencing the guns if we are not going to walk the talk,” Mohamed said during the AU debate.

Mohamed admits the AU suffers from institutional weaknesses which need to be corrected although she has not provided a detailed account of what she would correct immediately.

Mohamed’s 29 years in public service has been eventful. In 2010, she held the position of Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, where she oversaw the process leading to the launch of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution.

She also served briefly as the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi before leaving the post to unsuccessfully run for the post of the Director-General of the WTO.

She is widely acknowledged for championing a broader African voice in the run-up to the Rio plus 20 Conference on environmental reforms and the strengthening of the UNEP mandate.

Those successes make her admirers state that she has done more than enough to deserve not just a continental post, but a global position.

“Ambassador Mohamed seems to have a bit of an edge over the other contenders,”  an Addis Ababa-based diplomat told PANA.

Within the diplomatic circles, Ambassador Mohamed is seen as a schemer who planned in advance how to avoid an ICC intervention in South Sudan by proposing an interim judicial process driven by the AU.

“Her charm offensive is no doubt paying off going by the number of countries which have endorsed her. You can already see that she has been all over the place and her influence is growing. Both Morocco and the Western Sahara all seem to oscillate around her naturally and figuratively. It is a telling sign in diplomatic circles that she is a candidate to watch,” the diplomat added.

The race is not all smooth sailing for the Kenyan diplomat.

The two-term service by another Kenyan, Erastus Mwencha, the Deputy Chairperson of the AU, makes everyone suspicious about Kenya’s second attempt to scoop a top post at the AU.

“The Kenyan diplomat is no doubt popular within the Southern Africa region and the long-serving leaders of the continent no doubt admire her tough stance against the ICC. It is that anti-ICC attitude that is likely to deliver her more votes. However, she has to contend with the Mwencha-factor.”
-0- PANA AO/MA 19Jan2017

19 january 2017 11:37:13

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