From China to USA:Why Uhuru’s New York visit will be watched keenly

In the next three weeks, even before President Uhuru Kenyatta recovers from his Chinese trip jetlag, all eyes will be on him once again as he makes his maiden cross-Atlantic voyage to the United States – his first such trip since becoming Kenya’s president.

And although this will not be a state visit, his presence in New York will nevertheless draw curious glances from both friend and foe, as well as political analysts.

Speaking to the Nation by phone on Monday, Kenya’s ambassador to the UN confirmed that Mr Kenyatta will be attending this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Mr Macharia Kamau said the president will, in keeping with tradition, lead the Kenyan delegation to the summit in mid-September.

Mr Kenyatta’s visit will be a first of sorts for several reasons. First of all, it will be the first time that a Kenyan President will be attending the session as a representative of a UN-debt-free-nation. Last November, Kenya was named in the UN roll of honour as one of the member states which had cleared all their outstanding dues.

Out of 193 countries, only 31 were fully paid up and Kenya was among them. During the 2012-2013 UN financial year, Kenya paid over $51.7 million (over Sh4.2 Billion) as its contribution to the regular budget. At the time, Under-Secretary-General Yukio Takasu paid tribute to Kenya, saying the fulfillment of her financial obligations in its entirety is a clear indication of its commitment to the virtues espoused by the global organisation.

Secondly, besides making his maiden speech at the plenary session of heads of state and government, it will also be the first time that the Kenyan leader will be visiting the United States since becoming president.

Ordinarily, the visit would pass for just another African leader routinely attending the august summit. However, events of the last six months have seen Mr Kenyatta’s name feature prominently at the United Nations Security Council as the Kenyan government sought to have the International Criminal Court (ICC) criminal proceedings against him and two others terminated. For this reason alone, many world leaders who may not have met Mr Kenyatta in person will be keen to see the man who was the subject of such intense lobbying.

And then there is the not-too-cosy relationship between Mr Kenyatta and US president Barack Obama.

Although the United Nations Charter declares the UN headquarters in New York autonomous from the United States, a sitting US president is still considered the host head of state owing to the fact that the headquarters are situated on US soil.

It is expected that many will be keenly observing Mr Obama’s body language, especially should he avail a photo opportunity to Mr Kenyatta, which is something he usually does with heads of State and government on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

It will be recalled that in the run up to the last general election in Kenya, a senior official in the Obama administration made the now famous remark which was considered unsavoury by members of the Kenyatta led Jubilee coalition. The subsequent events – like Obama’s ‘snubbing’ of Kenya during his recent African tour – have been seen by many as a confirmation that indeed Mr Johnie Carson, the former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, was speaking for president Obama when he said that choices have consequences.

It is also not lost on many that the New York visit is coming barely a month before Mr Kenyatta’s trial at the ICC opens in The Hague, slated for November 12.

In May this year, ambassador Kamau wrote a widely publicized letter to the Security Council in which he said that the Kenyatta administration feared possible chaos and violence in the country should the ICC cases go to trial. “What this delegation is asking for is the immediate termination of the case at The Hague,” the letter, stamped as confidential, said in part.

But the envoy’s efforts came a cropper as the Security Council said it can only seek a deferral and does not have the authority to order the ICC to drop a case completely. Besides, key members of the powerful body – including the US and the United Kingdom – are on record as openly opposing any move to have the cases terminated.

Should Mr Obama find a moment for a tete-a-tete with president Kenyatta, I would wish to be a fly on the wall and listen in as the latter would most likely seek an explanation as to why the former has openly endorsed his ICC indictment yet the United States is not a state party to the Rome Statute, which established the international court.

If the discussion takes that direction, I can see Mr Obama trying to change the topic and asking the Kenyan leader what he really sees when he looks East (based on a recent commentary by Mr Kenyatta in which he praised China and other countries).

After a pause, Obama will then seek to know whether the Sh425 Billion deals Kenyatta recently signed with China were tied to any human rights and democratic practice conditions.

I can see Mr Kenyatta trying to suppress an urge to tell the leader of the free world off by asking him whether the money America has continued to spend on Egypt (in excess of US$1.3 Billion annually) even long after it became crystal clear that there is little democracy to write home about in that part of the world was also pegged to such Human Rights principles.

But the son of Jomo will know better than to utter such words in the face of the son of Obama Snr. He will quickly remember that the Gikuyu have a saying which considers it the apex of bad manners to leave a mess in your bed, especially when such bed is offered to you by a man who rules a country on whose soil you stand.

By B M J Muriithi

BMJ MURIITHI is a Communication and International Relations major at Atlanta Metropolitan University

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