Saturday, August 23, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
August 17, 2008

I am no trained diplomat in the ways of Foreign Service. I also know of quite a number of serving diplomats in senior positions in our foreign missions who share in my inadequacy. Yet they have done a wonderful job abroad where some trained diplomats have faltered.

My common sense tells me that to effectively head a ministry of Foreign Affairs; one must be polished in the art of public relations as the minimum requirement. It requires a high degree of civility. It demands the patience of a priest and the humility of Mahatma Gandhi.

Various philosophers have defined diplomacy in various ways over time. Caskie Stinnet, a 1911 American editor described a diplomat as a person who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip; while Margaret Sanger, a mid 20th Century American social worker described a diplomat as a person who makes it his business to conceal the facts.

Now sample this: Kenya’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Thuita Mwangi, was quoted as having told Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Ambassador Muthaura, the Head of the Civil Service that he would not sign Performance Contracts that bind all civil servants to deliverable and measureable targets.

What was intriguing was the fact that the Permanent Secretary, a civil servant had gone public in refusing to implement a government policy that had been operational for six years. What was more; he took the gamble to publicly challenge his superiors three levels above him.

Normal diplomatic practice would have expected the civil servant to follow protocol by raising his concerns through his political boss, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. When the controversy came in the open, ordinary people expected the Minister concerned to rebuke his PS for breach of protocol. This was not to be. Instead, he chose to stand by his Permanent Secretary!

Between the Prime Minister and the Head of the Civil Service, the man who has the constitutional authority to oversee and supervise the performance of the entire government is the Prime Minister. He, along with the President, was the one who promised Kenyans a responsive administration. The two gentlemen are collectively responsible to the electorate who expect services delivered to them at the end of the day.

Since this news broke out; a part from the Foreign Minister publicly coming out in defense of his PS, no word has come from Ambassador Muthaura or Prime Minister Odinga. Was Thuita Mwangi’s protest letter stage managed for some political reasons? Was this one of the many faces of internal struggles between PNU and ODM as they maneuver the stormy waters of the forced coalition?

In his objections to the current format of Performance Contract for Civil Servants, Thuita Mwangi dwelt at length on its inapplicability to his ministry citing deliverables in ministries such as roads, health, and industry among many service oriented ministries whose methods of operation cannot apply to Foreign Service.

Instead, he took refuge in sensitive ministries like Defense and National Security Intelligence services whose operations cannot be the subject of public debate.
In a way Thuita Mwangi had strong points going for him. What stole the thunder out of his argument was the manner he chose to air his grievances. Could he have said what he said more nicely and discreetly to avoid being seen to be insubordinating his superiors? If he can be perceived to be confrontational with his superiors, what would stop his juniors like ambassadors abroad disregarding his directives for whatever reason?

However, is it true that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cannot be judged on the current performance criteria? Does the Ministry not get a vote from the Treasury whose spending should be subject to probity by Parliament? Has the Ministry, over the last five years developed a strong and viable foreign policy? Does the Ministry develop an annual Strategic Plan with clear goals and objectives that guide its operations and rationalizes the number of embassies to be opened abroad from time to time? How business oriented are our foreign missions abroad? How many of our embassies can quantify the number of foreign investments or new export opportunities and scholarships they have secured for Kenya during their tenure? How many Kenyan missions abroad have the same influence in their host countries the way the American, British, German and South African ambassadors have on Kenya?

Is it possible that in their contracts, the ministry staff can be called upon to rationalize their staffing levels and the necessity of posting cooks, drivers, messengers and baby sitters abroad at the expense of Kenyan taxpayer? What of rampant nepotism that has been institutionalized in the ministry that allows only relatives of top managers in the government to be posted abroad?

In retrospect, it would appear like this is the season for challenging authority at all levels. If the Kipsigis are not resisting the squatter removal from Mau Forests, Coast MPs are warning the Prime Minister that Kenya Ports Authority top post must remain the preserve of Coastal people. If teachers are not defying Prof. Karega Mutahi on his directive against holiday tuitions, headmasters are still raising school fees arbitrarily in contravention of published guidelines. If Ministers and transporters are not defying the President and Prime Minister on all manner of directives including political party leadership and allowable loads on our roads, ordinary MPs are clamoring for a grand opposition in Parliament against the spirit of the ODM/PNU 2008 Coalition Accord.

Now lawyers, magistrates and judges have joined in the fray. Chief Justice Evans Gicheru has decided to lead the entire judiciary in a rare confrontation with the Prime Minister over Performance Contracts. On the Prime Minister’s side in the Minister for Justice! It will be interesting to see how this one works out considering that even though the judiciary is supposed to be independent, the appointing authority is still the Executive!

It would appear like there is rebellion in the air everywhere! Is this the seed that was planted twenty years ago when Kenyans were battling Daniel arap Moi’s repressive regime? Are order and authority under siege in Kenya? Can the architects of rebellion manage the new wave now that they are in authority?
Over to you, fellow Kenyans!