In Summary
  • Ambassadorial nominee expected to renounce her US citizenship, which is quite a long procedure

  • Now, with her formal nomination as an envoy, she seems to be meeting legal hurdles that escaped her before.

  • In 2017, she unsuccessfully ran for the Mwingi West parliamentary seat.

  • As MPs are also State officers, the question of her dual nationality would have arisen, had she won.

Mwende Mwinzi, the ambassadorial nominee for South Korea, may be waiting for the spinning coin to land so that she can know whether she will get the job, or be forced to renounce her US citizenship.

IMAGE CLEANING

In the past, she campaigned for Kenya’s positive image abroad behind the scenes. The philanthropist, famed for her Twana Twitu Children’s Orphanage, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, of Kenyan parents.

Though born in the US, she is also a Kenyan citizen as her parents were born here. Usually, citizenship by birth cannot be revoked, but only renounced through a lengthy procedure.

But the question as to whether she should be ambassador or not may be negated by her past efforts on behalf of Kenya. Shortly after Kenya returned to normalcy after the 2007/2008 post-election violence, government bureaucrats suggested that an image-cleaning mission was needed to assure the US and other Western allies that Kenya had turned over a new leaf.

Multiple accounts by Kenyan diplomats show that part of the programme involved showing the world that Kenya was adopting a new Constitution, widening civil liberties, fronting reconciliation and that it needed tourists, as well as approval for direct flights to turn around its economy.

But it was also facing the issue of the International Criminal Court, where some prominent politicians had been indicted for crimes against humanity.

The first decision was to hire Washington PR firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schelchter Associates (CLS Strategies) to portray a positive image and demonstrate to the world that there was domestic legal backing to complement the ICC.

A diplomat at the Foreign ministry said Ms Mwinzi introduced the CLS group to government officials and served as the link person between Nairobi and the lobbyists.

SHADOW DIPLOMACY

CLS had signed a contract with the government in 2009, which was renewed in 2011 for it to continue lobbying, during the ICC period.

The group, in partnership with Moffet Group, a lobby founded by a former Congressman, and which focused on US-Africa policies, worked their phones to fix appointments with senior politicians in Congress to try and shift that perception.

Whether they were successful or not is debatable, but Nairobi paid about Sh400 million for their services, which included business-class travel, according to documents on the US Department of Justice website as part of legal requirement to declare foreign agents served by local firms. The documents do not list Ms Mwinzi as an associate.

In international relations circles, this type of lobbying, where embassies are bypassed in favour of image firms, is known as shadow diplomacy.

She had good contacts and could link up US officials with Kenyan policy deciders. The problem was that it seemed as if she was doing embassy work, which is to advance Kenya’s interests, said another official who worked at the Kenyan mission in Washington at the time but has since been transferred.

CONTRADICTORY

At one point, the idea of lobbyists seemed to render embassy officials redundant.

Now, with her formal nomination as an envoy, she seems to be meeting legal hurdles that escaped her before.

In 2017, she unsuccessfully ran for the Mwingi West parliamentary seat. As MPs are also State officers, the question of her dual nationality would have arisen, had she won. Part of the problem, experts say, is that the framing of the law is contradictory.

“The real problem we have is the question of Kenyans holding dual nationality. On one hand, we love their contribution through remittances while on the other, we don’t want them to hold public or State offices,” said Mr George Mucee, an immigration consultant and practice leader at Fragomen Kenya in Nairobi.

“Think about the fact that they have a right to vote, yet they can’t vie for elective (or appointive) positions. We need to have a robust discussion on this issue and probably amend the Constitution, “he told the Nation.

During her vetting, Ms Mwinzi, 48, argued that dual nationality does not affect ambassadors, even though they may be considered State officers. She also defended her loyalty to Kenya.

“From my adulthood, everything about my life has been Kenya-bound, she said. “Every envoy is first a national, a defender, so your first mandate and only mandate is to serve the country.”