June 28th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Joho scores a first for governors in U.S. visit

According to a media statement provided by his office after the meeting with Mr Whitaker, Joho briefed the diplomat of progress made in redeeming the image of Mombasa County as a destination for tourism after the scare caused by terrorism threats.

By Free Press Correspondentnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comSunday, 19 Feb 2017 14:16 EAT

Mr Joho (c) after a meeting with senior US government officials on Saturday, February 18.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho’s meetings with top officials of the United States government have ended speculation that he was wanted in the U.S for drug dealing. The governor left the country for a week-long tour of the U.S. last Tuesday to attend a conference of the Strong Cities Network, an alliance of global municipalities, and meet top U.S. officials to discuss Mombasa’s contribution to counter-terrorism campaigns.

Political analysts have focused rather intensely on the significance of the visit as confirming that Joho was not on any U.S. drug enforcement watch list as has been widely claimed by the governor's political detractors. The bigger story, however, is how the governor’s visit has transformed the conduct of diplomacy in Kenya by inserting governors as legitimate players in foreign relations.

During his visit, Joho met with top officials at the U.S. Department of State that handles U.S. foreign policy, as well as others at the Department of Homeland Security. By far the most important meeting for Joho was with Eric P. Whitaker, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, with whom the governor discussed Mombasa's contribution to the fight against extremism.

Though Mr Whitaker is only acting, his position is at the level of ambassador and, with the transition from the Obama to Donald Trump administrations, Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is the head of the Bureau of African Affairs, is a lame duck, meaning that in practice Joho met President Trump's number one diplomat for Africa.

For the visit, Joho traveled with a top level team including county executive committee members and his spokesman. The delegation would support him in his role as chairman of the global communication working group of the Strong Cities Network. The governor was also set to meet with Kareem Shora, section chief, office of the secretary, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Russell T Porter, the USAid senior coordinator for the secretariat for countering violent extremism.

According to a media statement provided by his office after the meeting with Mr Whitaker, Joho briefed the diplomat of progress made in redeeming the image of Mombasa County as a destination for tourism after the scare caused by terrorism threats. "It was encouraging to hear that that Mombasa is one of the preferred destinations of American tourists in 2017 due to our increased promotional efforts," the brief quoted the governor as saying. "We agreed to create a “Think and Act Tank” in Mombasa to consistently research messaging to counter violent extremists."

A senior Foreign Service officer, Mr Whitaker was the Deputy Chief of Mission and then as Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy Niamey, Niger between August 2008 – October 2010. After that, he became the Counselor for Economic Affairs at the Embassy in Nairobi, which is America’s largest diplomatic post in sub-Saharan Africa for two years.

Thereafter, he served as Foreign Policy Advisor at Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti on Camp Lemonnier. Finally, from October 2012-2014, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy N’Djamena, Chad, before returning to the Department of State. He was appointed to his current position in January, coinciding with the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Such senior officials normally deal with national government officials, and Joho is the first governor since the advent of devolution to deal at that level with officials of any country. In the era of President Trump, no Kenya government official has met with senior State Department officials in Washington.

According to a briefing from Joho's office before his departure, the State Department visit was jointly organised between the governor's office and the Nairobi embassy. The governor had also sought to meet some U.S. congressmen during the visit, but this website was unable to establish whether any such meeting took place.

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