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November 14, 2018

Deplorable state of foreign missions unacceptable

To be clear, I don’t work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I have no intentions to thwart Kenya Foreign Policy. (Of course I stole that from the now famous New York Time OpEd.)

However, like-minded Kenyans, especially those who work, studied or have an interest in international affairs, I am concerned by recent reports touching on the ministry, which is the driver of Kenya’s diplomatic engagements.

Latest media reports indicate offices of Kenyan missions in nine countries are “in pathetic and deplorable conditions”, with some having leaking roofs, the ambassadors using outdated vehicles that do not meet diplomatic standards, as others have moved from their houses and instead seeking alternative shelter.

And these are not allegations you would say are made up by newspapers.

A report tabled in Parliament by the chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, Katoo Ole Metito painted a dull picture of broke foreign missions, which fall short of the standards they should have. The derelict stations, the Star report noted,  include New York (UN), Canada, Washington, Russia, Australia, Geneva, Japan, China, South Korea and the Los Angeles consulate.

“The iron sheet roof and supporting structure had deteriorated extensively and there was evidence of general leakages. Gutters and down water pipes were extensively corroded,” the report on the Kenya’s embassy in Washington, DC, said.

I made a point to contact my friends in the circles, or those residing in these countries and the narrative is not different.

A friend who was in Russia not too long ago told me when he visited the embassy there, it was clear the staff were not taken care of.

“Although the staff received us with energy, they said there is a lot of budget cuts, and their salaries are credited late. They are very demotivated,” he said.

“The building is clean but officers have to do clerical work. They are understaffed and are not able to maintain an up-to-date data on Kenyans living there.”

“I have all this information because we asked them all these questions,” he said.

Kenyan’s ambassador to Russia position has been vacant for nearly four years now.

Nigeria, which coordinates 12 other countries in West Africa, including Senegal and Ghana, has also been vacant.

Another former colleague who works in Dubai said the consulate is untidy, and the staff unmotivated and tired. Two clerks, he said, resigned mid last year and senior officers have to do clerical work.

These are not mere allegations, if National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi’s comments in Botswana, which could have triggered the fact-finding mission by the committee, are anything to go by.

He said some stations have been neglected while others have been given more attention.

“The committee should visit these stations to see for itself some of these challenges then sit with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to see how they can be addressed. Where budgetary allocations are needed, the committee will make recommendations to the Budget and Appropriations committee,” Muturi said.

Muturi noted the Botswana embassy is manned by only six officials and the mission requires money to hold annual trade fairs. Former High Commissioner Jean Kamau and three other senior officials, who served in the mission were recalled to Nairobi and the embassy has never had a substantive commissioner.

And this leads to another problem: Stagnation of careers at the ministry. There is disquiet over the inordinate delay in promotions that spurns seven years, as Star’s senior reporter Felix Olick noted in his August 15 report. Worse is the taking over of foreign missions by political appointees.

While on the face of it Kenya seems to do well in the international scene, all is not well at the Old Treasury building and the new leadership needs to fix these issues.

 

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