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Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s frequent foreign travels are unprecedented in his country. His visit to Germany last month, touted at home as part of the president’s strategic engagement with the developed world, was a dismal flop. It is unlikely that anything meaningful for the people of Kenya came out of the trip.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to Germany in April as Kenya’s head state was more of a display of freedom from the shackles of the International Criminal Court (ICC) than a state visit to pursue genuine interests of bilateral concern.

The president who was on his second leg of a European tour landed at Berlin’s Tegel Airport from Paris on April 6, accompanied by the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, Amina Mohamed, the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, government officials and a group of businessmen.

The official pomp and ceremonies accorded foreign head of states was lacking. With the exception of Kenya’s envoy, Dr. Joseph Magutt, neither the mayor of Berlin nor any high-ranking government official was at the airport to welcome Kenya’s head of state on his first visit to Germany since ascending to power in 2013.

The president and his two cabinet secretaries were driven to the Chancellery where Kenyatta inspected a guard of honour before a brief meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel flanked by a Permanent Secretary and a few mandarins from her office. 

Conspicuously absent at the talks were Mr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Ms. Amina Mohamed’s counterpart, and Mr. Sigmar Gabriel, the Vice Chancellor and the Federal Minister of Economic Affairs, under which the tourism portfolio falls. The Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation & Development too, was absent. It is, therefore, unlikely that any meaningful bilateral talks took place at the meeting.

What experts perceived as diplomatic posturing unfolded further when the Chancellor let her guest into a press conference room that was more or less empty, save for the members of Kenyatta’s Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) and a handful of German reporters. Mr. Kenyatta was not amused. He looked vividly irritated, but not his host.

The journalists listened to the two leaders patiently, hardly asking any question, a scene reminiscent of a botched official visit by President Daniel arap Moi 18 years ago.

Moi who arrived in Bonn with a strong delegation of 40 people was received by the then Federal President Roman Herzog but left without meeting the relevant government officials. The newly elected Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder chose to travel to China instead, leaving Kenya’s dignitaries not knowing what to do.   

What was more remarkable in the meeting between Uhuru and Merkel was a veiled reference to Chinese entrenchment in Kenya’s development. The Chancellor extolled Chinese companies for their quick planning and the easily accessible funding, reminding Kenya to stay the course.

Observers believe the visit was the first step to restoring relations between Kenya and the West after the declaration of “look East” policy attributed to Uhuru, and the sarcastic comment regarding the perpetual travel advisories linked to the declining flow of the tourists from the West Mr.Kenyatta referred to as taxi drivers.

The most significant phase of Kenyatta’s visit, however, was the meeting with the Chamber of Commerce officials and a few of their members. Uhuru later visited a vocational training centre, a deliberate move to impress upon the president the need to equip the youth with skills – Mr. Kenyatta hinted at dispatching experts later to evaluate the system. 

What he might not have known is that the Education Ministry had long rejected similar initiatives way back in 1985 as irrelevant and the fate of the free samples shipped to Kenya remains a mystery.  

* Mickie Ojijo, a diaspora Kenyan, lives in Frankfurt, Germany.

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