Uhuru skips Commonwealth summit for Africa-Arab summit in Kuwait

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PRESIDENT Uhuru Kenyatta will not attend the 23rd Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka that opens tomorrow and ends on November 17. State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu yesterday told the Star that Uhuru has opted to attend the Third Africa-Arab Summit in Kuwait from November 19 to 20.

It will be the first time since independence for the Kenyan president not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. “He has considered what will be of more value to Kenyans. For instance, investments in the energy sector which the President holds dearly will be among the things to be discussed at the Africa-Arab summit. To him, such investments mean more to the ordinary Kenyan compared to what will be discussed at the Commonwealth summit,” Esipisu said.

He added that Uhuru did not want to be out of the country for nine days if he attended CHOGM as well. “Preparations for Kenya at 50 are on, and the President is expecting a number of Heads of State. He wants to be constantly briefed on the preparations,” added Esipisu.  The advance team from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which arrived in Colombo this week are now in a state of confusion. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will also not be attending.

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are boycotting the conference in protest at Sri Lankan treatment of Tamils during the civil war.  However India is sending its Foreign minister to CHOGM. Harper has threatened to stop Canada’s substantial contributions to the Commonwealth if no action is taken against Sri Lanka.  “We are yet to confirm who will be attending the meeting on behalf of the President since the Cabinet Secretary (Amina Mohamed) will be accompanying the President,” said a Foreign ministry official.

Last month, the Star reported that Uhuru would boycott the summit but the Foreign ministry denied the report. The Star story said government circles had hinted that Kenya was quietly lobbying African countries to boycott the Commonwealth meeting over the ICC.  South Sudan and Burundi which had applied to join the Commonwealth have now suspended their bids indefinitely. Gambia, the home of ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, quit the Commonwealth last month.

“The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism,” its eccentric President Yahya Jammeh announced.  In the UK itself, the parliamentary Foreign Affairs select committee also called on Prime Minister David Cameron to boycott CHOGM over Sri Lanka’s human rights record. Cameron, however, said he will go.

The Commonwealth is comprised of 53 member states, mostly former colonies of the British Empire, headed by Queen Queen Elizabeth II. Member states have no legal obligations to one another.  The meeting will be the first in 40 years in which Queen Elizabeth II will not attend owing to old age. She is 87. Her son Prince Charles will represent her.

-the-star

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