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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Regional power games cost Kenya's minister AU commission chairmanship

MNAIROBI, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed lost the African Union (AU) chairmanship to her Chadian counterpart Moussa Faki Mahamat due to lackluster support from neighboring countries and last minute decision by the Francophone bloc to support their own candidate, experts have said.

Despite months of shuttle diplomacy and aggressive lobbying, Mohamed lost the coveted post during elections held on the sidelines of the AU heads of state summit that took place in Addis Ababa early this week.




Compared to her four competitors, Mohamed had a sterling resume, intellectual acumen and connections that gave her commanding lead during the initial voting stages.
File photo shows Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade Amina Mohammed address journalists in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, May 30, 2016. (Xinhua/Charles Onyango)

The 56-year-old trained lawyer lost the battle to secure AU commission chairmanship during the seventh round of voting after regional blocs that had earlier pledged support switched their loyalties.

Speaking to Kenyan media after the hotly contested elections, Mohamed blamed lukewarm support from some Kenyan neighbors alongside competing interests between Anglophone and Francophone states for her unexpected loss.

"It is fact regional blocs had publicly expressed support for my candidature but switched their loyalties or abstained altogether at the eleventh hour. nevertheless, we have learnt crucial lessons from the AU elections," Mohamed said on Wednesday.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto had aggressively campaigned for the Foreign Minister to succeed South Africa's Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the AU commission chairperson.

By mid January, Kenya had managed to reach out to 51 African countries to back its bid for AU commission chairmanship.

Local media reported the government had spent an estimated 350,000 dollars U.S. on shuttle diplomacy and intensive lobbying to secure the influential post at the AU headquarters.

Ruto and several cabinet members made forays to many African countries to lobby for their support for Mohamed's candidature.

As campaigns came to a close, Kenyan officials were convinced Mohamed stood a better chance of flooring her four rivals thanks to enthusiastic endorsement by the East African bloc and a large swathe of Anglophone region.

Kenyan diplomats who requested anonymity said the betrayal by some East African neighbors aborted Nairobi's quest to head the influential post at the AU.

"While other regions gravitated to their candidates, the public endorsement by some of our neighbors did not materialize. Others chose to abstain from voting hence dealing a blow to our candidature," said a Kenyan diplomat.

Kenya had to grapple with profound geopolitical challenges in its quest to occupy top echelon of AU leadership.

Local experts opined that political ideology alongside jostling for diplomatic and economic clout wrecked Kenya's chances of winning the chairmanship of the AU Commission.

"We have to admit that not everyone in this region appreciates Kenya's unrivaled position as a diplomatic, military and economic powerhouse. Voting against our candidate during the AU elections was a reflection of this revolt," said Vincent Kimosop, a Nairobi-based legal practitioner.

Kenya remained defiant after the loss of AU top job saying it will not affect the country's relationship with the rest of the continent.

During a luncheon hosted in her honor by women leaders on Wednesday, Mohamed reaffirmed Kenya's commitment to robust engagement with regional blocs to advance economic growth, peace and security.

"Kenya will continue to pursue friendly diplomatic engagement with the rest of the continent despite losing the AU chairmanship position. There are many things that unite us beyond elections," Mohamed told female entrepreneurs.

She added that losing a coveted seat at the apex of the continental body provided a chance for Kenya to re-evaluate its priorities in the diplomatic sphere.

Kenya's failure to clinch the position of AU commission Chairmanship sent ripples across the region.

As blame game persisted, some countries like Uganda came out strongly to refute claims they betrayed their neighbor's quest to head the continental body.

The Ugandan foreign ministry said in a strong worded statement on Wednesday evening that Kampala voted for Amina Mohamed to become the AU commission chair.

"We wish to state categorically that our support to the candidature of Amina before and during elections was unequivocal," the Ugandan foreign ministry said in the statement

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