Kenya's envoy to Uganda 'quits' amid trade rows

Kiema Kilonzo

Kenya’s High Commissioner to Uganda Kiema Kilonzo.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya’s High Commissioner to Uganda Kiema Kilonzo has quit his office for a political contest even as both countries trail on resolving incessant trade tiffs.

Mr Kilonzo’s chief campaigner Chrispus Ileli told Nation.Africa the envoy was no longer returning to Kampala and diplomatic his tour of duty was over.

Mr Kilonzo is expected to formally tender his resignation ahead of the February 9 for civil servants intending to join politics to quit.

But his actions have lately left no doubt he is no longer a diplomat. Even as the trade row with Uganda over importation of agricultural goods, as well as Covid-19 regulations mismatches simmer, the diplomat has been seen in his native Kitui County.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo told reporters she had not seen any resignations yet.

Foreign Service Act

“We have not received any resignation from our diplomats to run for political office. Be we do anticipate some, and that is their right. Anybody can contest for political office if they choose to,” she said as she launched a report on the Ministry’s work since 2020.

“Once they resign from those posts, their positions will be filled in accordance with the provisions that are set up in the Foreign Service Act which are very clear,” she said.

Mr Kilonzo’s last major assignment was to ease tensions between Nairobi and Kampala over trade disagreement, which were triggered by Uganda’s plans to restrict raw and processed agricultural products from its market.

But then there has been disquiet in Nairobi over Mr Kilonzo’s handling of the Kampala Mission where he was regarded largely an absentee envoy.

At some point, Mr Kilonzo was given a public dressing-down by President Uhuru Kenyatta during a Catholic Church event in Kitui, in what observers saw as dissatisfaction with his performance.

The President accused Mr Kilonzo of just loitering around and not helping him. The Head of State spoke at the launch of Museve Catholic Shrines in Kitui County.

The outgoing ambassador, a former MP for Kitui East resigned mid last month to vie for governorship in Kitui County, on Wiper Democratic Party ticket.

Mr Kilonzo was appointed an envoy after losing his seat in 2013. He was the inaugural ambassador to Turkey after Kenya opened an embassy in Ankara.

Then he was redeployed to Kampala after the retirement of Maj-Gen Geoffrey Okanga in 2019.

Junior officers

Despite Uganda being Kenya’s biggest trading partner, Mr Kilonzo has been on the spot for abandoning the station to junior diplomatic officers while concentrating with his political campaigns back home.

A source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Nation.Africa that Mr Kilonzo was actually forced out ahead of the February official deadline for Kenya’s state officials venturing into politics.

“The trade negotiations almost collapsed because Kenya’s ambassador was not available. The Kenya government felt he should be relieved of his duties” said the source.

The latest hostilities between the two EAC member states began brewing in December 2019, when Kenya stopped importing Ugandan milk, particularly the Lato brand.

In July 2020, Kenya followed up with a ban on Ugandan sugar, against an earlier agreement to increase Uganda’s sugar exports to Kenya.

Uganda had introduced discriminative excise duties under the Excise Duty Amendment Act 2017.

In October, a Kenyan delegation led by Mr Kilonzo walked out of a meeting with their Ugandan counterparts. The meeting was organised to end the standoff over fish that was impounded by Ugandan authorities, en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo from Kenya.

 Additional Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo