Skip to main content

‘Our Strength Lies In Coming Together’

Published 5 years ago
By Forbes Woman Africa

Kenya is rallying behind Ambassador Dr Amina Mohamed to be the next Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, and Africa has warmly received her nomination. Elections were set to be held on January 31.

With a stellar diplomatic career of over three decades, Mohamed, a Kenyan, is known as an excellent strategist with proven negotiation and managerial skills, having demonstrated solid leadership in every domestic and international post she has held.

She is the serving Chair of the 10th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference which is the topmost decision-making body of the WTO.

Mohamed rose through the ranks in Kenya’s diplomatic service from legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Kenya’s Missions to Geneva and New York, to the highest level of Ambassador/Permanent Representative, Kenya Mission, to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva from 2000 to 2006.

She served as Director, Europe and the Commonwealth and Director Diaspora from 2006 to 2007 and was Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs in 2008.

In July 2011, she joined the UN as Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) based in Nairobi.

In April 2013, she was appointed by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta as Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Kenya.

Weeks before the AU Commission elections, Mohamed spoke to CNBC Africa. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: You’ve had many firsts as a woman in leadership in Africa; just walk us through your journey?

A: The first time I did something that I guess laid the road-map for whatever else came after was when I was elected to chair the International Organization for Migration Conference which is a council for migration. At that time, Kenya was actually the only African country that was a member of the International Organization for Migration. And when I was approached, I told them that the only reason I would agree to be put up as a candidate for the chairmanship would be if they would open up the organization for Africa, and would be able to attract more countries into the organization.

So we reached an understanding and I chaired it and during my chairmanship, that one year, I brought in a few African countries, and the rest is actually history, because now I think the largest group of countries that are members of the IOM are African countries, and from then on, I think in especially the kind of job that we do as ambassadors, you are called upon to show your commitment to the continent by agreeing to chair different bodies.

And so I was fortunate, I was privileged that the African group in the cities that I served in saw it fit to elect me over and over again, and so it’s something that I enjoyed doing, I was committed to doing and I think the record is not a bad one.

Q: You are now running to be chairperson of the AU Commission, tell us about the drive behind this decision?

A: Kenya has put up my candidateship for the position of Chairman of the African Union Commission. Why am I running? I think we have a lot of value that we can bring to the table; we are also at a good time in the history of this continent. The first thing that comes to mind is the framework that we have. We have a framework that was agreed on by all African countries that needs a faithful implementer to put in place.

It’s a framework called Agenda 2063, for inclusive growth and sustainable development and it has a number of amazing aspirations for the continent. I think it’s actually time for East Africa because of the track record we have also set as a community, as an East African Community in what we have done.

We created a model for others to emulate and so there’s just a feeling that it was time for us to run for this position and I would be a good candidate for that because again I can bring people together, I have never come across a challenge that cannot be resolved, I look at challenges actually as opportunities. And I believe that we all know what we need as a continent to move us forward. One should look at the leaps we have made.

We are a young continent, we have done amazing things, we – many of us – have come up with new constitutions, constitutions that are based on our own realities, not on realities that come from elsewhere, also we look at our own specificities, our own individualities as countries.

For us as a continent, it’s actually excellent that we have such a young population.

It’s a young population that’s creative and innovative that are drivers of the economy and they are also the future and the present and therefore whatever they do, they know what they would like to put in place, for themselves and for their own children and for posterity I guess.

So we actually are in a situation where we can lead and not follow, because the problem is ours, the challenge is ours and it’s a wonderful opportunity to use, to propel the continent to the greatest possible heights.

Q: Briefly take us through what an AU Commission led by you will focus on, looking at the challenges Africa is facing…

A: I think industrialization, without any doubt. It is the only one that has the ability to reduce poverty, create the jobs that we need and to move the continent [forward]. And I think following that, trade, because trade brings us together, which is a unifier if you like.

We need to make sure that our infrastructure, whether it’s land, sea or air, is seamless. It doesn’t take a day, it’s a process but we need to get on with it. We need to remove the obstacles that are low-lying fruit… they can be removed easily.

One of those is allowing the easier movement of people, business people, of capital, services and goods. There is no reason why Kenya should import; and I am using as an example, if we did not have the dairy sector and we needed butter, milk or cheese, there is no reason why we should import that from 10,000 miles away; if we can just go across the border, into the next country and import from our neighbors.

The only reason why that has been difficult is because of the infrastructure deficit that we are faced with and we need to address that and address it quickly.

In this country we have tried to do it, in the region we have tried to do it with the SGR, with the road infrastructure that we have put in place, with the modernization with the port that has been done over the last few years, with the modernization of our airport, so those are the things we need to do across the continent so that our young people can move from one country to another, bring ideas, bring creativity, bring innovation, but also find jobs.

So apart from industrialization, and obviously there you have to address the infrastructure deficit, trade and the need to trade amongst ourselves; the intra-Africa trade is at 13%, and there is no reason for that. It should actually be at least at 30%; we should, eventually have 60% of trade within the continent.

This is where the population is, this is where the fastest growing middle-class is, and obviously with that, you have a consumer market, so this is where most of the trading should actually take place.

Q: The outgoing AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has been very vocal about peace and security. Share with us your vision…

A: She’s also been very passionate about agriculture, because agriculture has the ability to transform communities and societies very quickly and there’s a need therefore again as a reason of the youth to make agriculture trendy and productive for the youth.

But you know you cannot undertake development unless you actually have a peaceful, stable and predictable environment. You must have peace and security, without it you can’t have growth.

And so it’s been actually a rallying call of Madam Zuma, to silence the guns and we’ve agreed that we would try to do that at least by 2020, if we can’t do it sooner. I believe that if we all came together and are always committed as she is, we should be able to do that before the 2020 deadline.

Africa does not manufacture ammunition except for a few countries. Africa is resolving most of its conflicts and there are very few countries today, of the 54, that are still engulfed in conflict, in fact there are probably less than five that are engulfed in active conflict, and therefore we are at a place where we should be talking about a peaceful Africa, a secure Africa, a growing Africa, a resilient Africa.

So it’s one of the priorities. We actually addressed most of the issues that were connected to decolonization, that peace and security became a big issue and we started addressing it.

I think if we are focused we can actually deal with it, it’s been successful in the majority of countries and of course there will be hiccups, back and forth, but I think a majority of the countries have gone beyond the stage where conflict is a daily affair, so we need to continue working on it and I think we should be able to get it done.

Q: What’s your vision on

driving governance?

A: We have a very comprehensive and all-inclusive agenda. And that is also an issue that is in our Agenda 2063; we are more transparent, we are more open. Again, we are a young continent, the youth is very demanding, we are involving more and more people in leadership – apart from the youth, the women that are coming in jobs now.

So I think today Africa is at a better place, in terms of the rule of law, in terms of governance than it has ever been, and I think the only way forward is to keep improving that.

And as I said before, we [Kenya] enacted our constitution in 2010. Immediately after its enactment – I was in Justice, Permanent Secretary there – we got a dozen requests from countries that wanted to come and look at our constitution and see whether there was anything they could borrow from there that would fit their own circumstances. Because at the end of the day, the instrument is only as good as its implementation.

And you will only implement something that you are really comfortable with, and so the whole purpose of coming to study and look at what we are doing is, ‘will this fit into my own circumstance, is it something I can do now, is it something that can be delayed a bit’.

As you know, our own constitution had transitional clauses, what we needed to do now, what we could a little later; some of the provisions could only actually be fully implemented in five years, six years, and 10 years. So we had actually time periods in the constitution for implementation of different provisions.

So I think it’s the same everywhere, but the governance situation on the continent is better than it’s ever been and I know it’s going to continue improving.

Q: Your bid has been warmly

accepted across a good number of countries, over 25 African countries. What are your expectations as we head towards January 2017?

A: We are campaigning, I was told by one of our leaders that campaigns are personal, you must ask for a vote and that if you don’t ask for a vote, even your own brother can vote against you, so we are going across the continent asking everybody for their support and trying of course to obviously convince them that we have a good candidate. They have been very receptive, very warmly received, wonderful arrangements put in place for us… we are encouraged by the reception and the support that seems to be coming across as well.

– Gitonga is a news producer at CNBC Africa and interviewed Mohamed at the CNBC Africa studios in Nairobi in November, Kenya; for the full text of the interview, visit

Sign Up for Our Newsletter Daily Update

Get the best of Forbes Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent.
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services. By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
Related Topics: #African Union, #Ambassador, #Chairperson, #Dr Amina Mohamed, #Elections, #February 2017, #Kenya, #Nomination.