Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ms Amina Mohammed. Photo/FILE
NATION MEDIA GROUP
Monday, July 01, 2013
“You ask a question, you get your response quickly.” This is the
new vision the new lady at the helm of Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Ministry
wants the public to experience.
For a ministry which is handling the country’s
most sensitive diplomatic engagements, it would come as a surprise that
she has now told diplomats to start tweeting and respond to questions
from the public.
In an interview with the Nation, Foreign
Affairs Cabinet Secretary Ms Amina Mohammed said her ministry is working
on an open-door policy to have all its officials and diplomats
registered on social media.
“Our ambition is to actually digitise the ministry
so that we get everybody onto the social media. I found that social
media is, to me, one of the best ways to get the feelings of Kenyans and
to respond to issues that are raised,” she said after meeting EU
diplomats in Nairobi.
“We have tried to do it as fast as we can and I
would like all my officers to be doing the same thing so that we can
respond in real time,” she added.
Ms Mohammed, formerly the Permanent Secretary in
the Justice and Constitutional Affairs ministry, was the Assistant
Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director for the United Nations
Environmental Programme (UNEP) before her appointment to the cabinet
Before this, she only had about 3,000 followers on her twitter account @AMB_A_Mohammed.
When she spoke to the Nation last week, she had 13,000. That number has risen to 15,885 ‘disciples’.
“I am probably going to get someone, a colleague to help me keep pace with updating people,” she joked.
Tweeting is essentially a micro-blogging practice
where individuals join the social networking site under pseudonyms
called handles and post comments about the day’s events.
The Foreign Affairs Secretary says it is making it
a policy for diplomats to tweet because there are many active Kenyans
on Twitter who may want straight answers to their questions without
necessarily coming to the office physically.
This would remove the bad image often associated with civil servants where calls remain unanswered, or emails ignored.
“I do not want to give you a timeline but we are
going to do it in the shortest time possible. You will see more and more
of us on social media,” said Ms Mohammed.
So what are our diplomats tweeting? On her account
Amina Mohammed often answers questions posed by Kenyans, retweets
‘good’ news about Kenya and updates on her programmes for the day.
For example, on Monday, she flew to Burundi with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“Greetings, I this morning accompanied His
Excellency @UKenyatta to Burundi as guests for the Burundi National
Day,” she wrote after arriving in Bujumbura. @UKenyatta is President
Uhuru Kenyatta's twitter handle.
Then later, she updated, “It was great seeing and
meeting my counterpart @LMushikiwabo - The Rwandese Foreign Minister.”
@LMushikiwabo is the handle for Ms Louise Mushikwabo, her Rwandese
She has been active ever since she took over Foreign Affairs but the public she deals with is demanding.
When Kenyans were detained in Nigeria after deporting
controversial Nigerian businessman Anthony Chinedu, she had to plead
with Kenyans to be patient.
“As we wait to have them back, let's observe
patience,” she wrote shortly after she had tweeted the “good news” that
the 11 had been released to come home.
But she has had to deal with questions on Saudi
Arabia, a country often accused of mistreating foreign domestic workers,
queries about visas (although this falls under immigration) and any
other issues affecting Kenya’s Foreign policy.
Kenya’s outgoing Ambassador to the US Elkanah Odembo is another active diplomat.
On his twitter handle @Balozi_odembo, Mr Odembo
often writes about what is urgent to improve the standards of living in
Africa, praises Kenyans’ achievements, retweets other views on Africa
and of course the US-Kenya relations status.
“Access to electricity will be the main
determinant of growth and poverty reduction in Sub Sahara Africa. This
is URGENT,” he wrote on Monday.
“Chokepoints (sic) at borders, redundant security
checks, excessive customs paperwork, over-regulation, meaningless
tariffs…these are killing Africa!”
Dr Joe Sang, Kenya’s Ambassador to Sweden but who
is also accredited to Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark says on his
page that he uses “innovative diplomacy” to protect Kenya’s interests.
He does not say how but he often retweets news
about Kenya’s achievements and often posts pictures of his diplomatic
Despite that, diplomats continue to guard their
work secrets jealously. We shall see how this social media policy would
improve our diplomacy.