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January 17, 2019

Ambassador Lodewijk Briet Must Watch His Mouth

OUT OF LINE? Ambassador Lodewijk Briet. He is head of the European Delegation in Nairobi. He is an experienced senior diplomat.Photo/Monicah Mwangi
OUT OF LINE? Ambassador Lodewijk Briet. He is head of the European Delegation in Nairobi. He is an experienced senior diplomat.Photo/Monicah Mwangi

The Head of the European Delegation in Nairobi, Lodewijk Briet, is an experienced senior diplomat. The fact that he represents and coordinates the activities of the EU Delegation in Nairobi means that apart from the US Ambassador who carries the biggest diplomatic stick by virtue of the super power status of his country; Briet is actually the Head Diplomatic Sheriff at Nairobi.

He tracks, monitors and reports back to Brussels on all the projects, engagements, trade and investment initiatives by the EU – as a collective – or on their areas and spheres of influence and interests. But more importantly, Briet keeps tabs on major political developments in Kenya and the East African region. Before he was posted to Nairobi in March 2011, Mr. Briet served in the same position in South Africa.

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, which forms the cornerstone of modern international relations, Ambassador Briet is fully protected from coercion or harassment. Unless his diplomatic immunity is waived by Brussels or he engages in unlawful activities outside his core duties, he is also immune from any legal sanctions in Kenya. 

In other words, Ambassador Lodewijk Briet is a fairly influential and powerful Sheriff. He may not wield raw power as he is a mere conveyor belt rather than an initiator of major decisions, however, he nonetheless does influence how Brussels conceives of and implements policies in Kenya and in the East African region as a whole.

In addition, because he also coordinates and oversees the expenditure of a large multilateral development budget in the region, Mr. Briet does, in fact, wield considerable power. As the street parlance goes, ‘Money is Power.’ 

Hence, with his experience, seniority, influence and power, Mr. Briet must surely appreciate that whatever he says or publishes in the media has considerable weight. To the average citizen, whatever Mr Briet says – and no matter how casual or ill-considered and advised it might be – many believe his utterances represent the position of the EU. Even his physical presence alone intimidates some people. 

Although Mr. Briet only heads the EU Delegation while each EU member state is represented in the country at the ambassadorial or high commissioner’s level and therefore they speak directly to bilateral issues between Kenya and their home countries, the Diplomatic Sheriff is still Mr. Briet. In real terms - because the EU, as both an economic and trading block, controls more resources than the US – in practical terms, Mr. Briet’s word holds more economic sway than that of the US ambassador.

Whereas it would be naïve to believe that Briet’s every utterance - even those made carelessly in the heat of the moment - reflects the views, interests and policies of the EU, however, because of his seniority, experience, influence and power, he has a responsibility to ensure that he is always measured, objective and judicious. This is because the ordinary citizen often automatically assumes that whatever Briet says must be credible and based on independent research. His credibility originates from the fact that he heads the EU Delegation.

Even in Netherlands where he is a career civil servant, Mr. Briet isn’t allowed to plunge into politics and/or utter ill-considered or reckless statements in public. So, when the Kenyan press recently quoted him as ‘supporting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s exoneration of the Al-Shabaab terror group’s claim of responsibility for the twin attacks in Mpeketoni,’ I read and re-read the story five times. I checked all the three national newspapers: the Daily Nation, The Standard and The Star to ensure that what was attributed to Briet wasn’t some spook. I compared the hard paper and the electronic reports to be absolutely certain that the attribution was accurate. It was.

Mr. Briet went further and indicated that he placed full blame for the ‘Mpeketoni terrorist attacks at the doorstep of the opposition and the heightened political temperatures that had been created by their reckless political utterances…’

There wasn’t any indication on how Ambassador Briet had reached such inflammatory conclusions. I say inflammatory because eye-witness accounts sharply contradict him. According to multiple independent reports, the terrorists who attacked Mpeketoni spoke Somali, targeted every male and non-Muslim person they encountered and indiscriminately butchered them without regard to their political or ethnic affiliations. 

An explosive investigation report by Kipchumba Some in the The Standard on Sunday of June 22, 2014, established that the Al-Shabaab not only took responsibility in a video clip they posted in the Internet just hours after they had escaped; they had also asked Waithera Muthoni, a lady whose home they had invaded briefly during the twelve hours of terror, to tell the government that they were “revenging for what they are doing to our people in Somalia. Tell the government to pull its troops out of Somalia or else we will be back soon…” 

Waithera Muthoni was spared. She was a Gikuyu. Mwanamkuu, too was spared. She wasn’t a Gikuyu. Al she did to survive was to recite the Shahada. Jairo Kipkemboi, a Kalenjin policeman, was murdered in cold blood. So, too, were a few indigenous people from the Coast. Some whose ethnicities haven’t been disclosed because they were burnt beyond recognition were also senselessly murdered. Therefore, contrary to myths being peddled by conspiracy theorists, vile propagandists and tribalists - not every victim in Mpeketoni was a Kikuyu!

Mr. Some quoted numerous members of the security forces - and the Governor of Lamu – stating that they had reported the attacks to the higher ups in Lamu and Nairobi including senior people at State House, Nairobi, immediately shots rang out. They pleaded and begged for reinforcements and help but nothing came until the terrorists had managed to kill more than sixty people and retreated. Several civilians, too, complained of having been ignored by security agents when they had raised an alarm about strangers staking out their little town.

Significantly, the terrorist attacks lasted for nearly two days despite the fact that there are police and military bases – including air force – in or about Mpeketoni.

How long would it have taken the military to scramble air force jets from Nanyuki to Mpeketoni? Certainly not the more than twelve hours the terrorists spent killing innocent people. Don’t we have a combat-ready navy and air force in Mombasa? Wouldn’t even a few KDF soldiers from the Somalia theatre have managed to neutralise the 50 terrorists?

In an interview with Some, Richard Tuta, an independent security analyst, made the following observations of the Mpeketoni attacks: “Al-Shabaab choose their targets for maximum impact. In choosing Mpeketoni, they knew they would kill the ‘infidels;’ show off their organisational ability; hurt the President’s heart by killing his own people; and reap from the political fallout that would fallow. In my opinion, they have achieved their aims.” 

Another security analyst added that, “The greatest weakness of the Government is that they have underestimated the abilities of Al-Shabaab. This was the mistake the US made when handling Al Qaeda before the 9/11. When I hear political leaders ask how Al-Shabaab could have known that there were Kikuyus in Mpeketoni, I get angry. Sympathisers of this group live among us…Fazul Mohammed, the top Al Qaeda operative who masterminded the 2002 attacks at Kikambala, Kilifi, lived in Lamu and Pate Islands for several years as he planned his mission. Fazul might have died, but his cell is definitely not dead…” 

I carefully considered the above facts before I composed this column. I gave myself enough time to reflect and digest the information. I also waited in order to provide Mr. Briet with ample opportunity to consider these facts so that he could do what honest and reasonable people are expected to do under the circumstances: retract, clarify, withdraw or disown the statements that had been attributed to them.

I wanted to be fair. I expected Briet, whom I’m acquainted with, to do the honourable thing. However, instead of trying to acquit himself of the accusation of intemperance and ungovernability, Mr. Briet jumped right into another controversy.

On Friday, June 20th, the media reported him blaming the “47 counties for failing to pass basic law.” Commenting on an order by the High Court in a case where some Kiambu county residents had successfully applied for the nullification of the Finance Act (Kiambu), Mr. Briet stated that, “Kiambu, like any of the 47 counties should involve their people in terms of public participation to draft such a bill in the spirit of the constitution.” He proceeded to give a long lecture on good governance.

Compared to his Mpeketoni outrage, Ambassador Briet’s Kiambu observations weren’t as offensive – on the surface. Many cursory observers would give him a pass on the basis that he was only urging the county governments to involve their citizens in law-making, which was a constitutional imperative. 

However, under the Vienna Convention, Mr. Briet isn’t permitted to engage in politics. His comments on the Mpeketoni attacks contradicted advisories as well as intelligence and security alerts from the US, the UK and other western intelligence agencies. He hadn’t even waited long enough to get, digest and understand comprehensive briefs on what had happened before making politically partisan observations. In the process, his utterances sounded – in tone, content and context – as cheap political posturing. He also appeared like a man looking for attention and presidential favours.

During the dark days of one-party totalitarianism, many of us encouraged foreign ambassadors to breach the Vienna Convention in order to assist us in our fight for democratization and liberation. But that was then. We succeeded in that fight and managed to promulgate a new constitution with an entrenched vibrant bill of rights. It’s now our duty, as a liberated people, to govern ourselves.

If Mr. Briet has provided funds on behalf of the EU for the implementation of devolution (which is what I assume would allow him some minimal latitude), he must understand that his remit does not include ill-advised and unmeasured partisan political comments.

A Kenyan ambassador in Brussels, at the Den Haag, London or Washington, DC wouldn’t be expected or allowed to make similar comments of their host country. That rule must apply equally on all the Diplomatic Sheriffs from the West.

Mr. Miguna Miguna is a lawyer and author of Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya and Kidneys for the King: Deforming the Status Quo in Kenya.

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