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 recently.
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 counterpart.
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 engagements.
Despite that, diplomats continue to guard their work secrets jealously. We shall see how this social media policy would improve our diplomacy.