Amb. Dr. Amina Mohamed
CABINET SECRETARY SPORTS, HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Over the past 30 years, Ambassador Dr. Amina Mohamed has built a long and distinguished career in the public sector. The seasoned lawyer turned diplomat, who currently heads the Sports, Heritage and Culture ministry, started her career in 1985 as a legal officer the Ministry of Local Government, where she assessed World Bank development projects. Her familiarity with the inner workings of multilateral institutions quickly earned her the trust of higher-ranking officials in the government, and in 1986, just one year into her debut in public service, she was tapped as a legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It is at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—where she would eventually become CS at a later stage in her career—that Amina Mohamed honed her craft as a diplomat. Between 1986 and 1990, she was involved in negotiating and drafting various bilateral treaties, including the Bilateral Air Services Agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iran, and the United Kingdom, as well as the African Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Dr. Amina Mohamed’s rising star in the early years of her career opened new opportunities overseas, and in 1990, she was appointed as the legal advisor to Kenya’s Mission at the United Nations (UN) Head Office in Geneva, Switzerland. This marked the beginning of a long and rewarding career advancing Kenya’s diplomatic interests at various UN agencies and global fora. Over the next decade, she achieved milestone after milestone in both her professional and academic life; she ascended to the position of Legal Adviser to the Kenyan delegation at the UN Security Council (the apex organ of the UN) while at the same time, obtaining her Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations from the University of Oxford in the U.K.
New millennium, new responsibilities
By the turn of the new millennium, it was increasingly clear that Dr. Amina Mohamed was best placed to lead Kenya’s diplomatic efforts at the UN. She had built an impressive track record in Geneva and had established deep ties with many influential contacts around the world. She was subsequently appointed as the Ambassador and Permanent Representative for the Kenya diplomatic mission in Geneva. She served in this role between 2000 and 2006, surviving the personnel reshuffling that typically comes when a new administration, Kibaki’s Narc government took over from Moi’s Kanu in 2002.
During her time as Kenya’s foremost diplomat to the UN, Dr. Amina Mohamed also served in other important roles such as:
- Chairperson, Coordinator and Spokesperson for the African Group in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Human Rights Commission.
- President of the Conference on Disarmament.
- First female chairperson of the International Organization for Migration.
- Chaired the Trade Policy Review Body in 2003 and served as the chairperson of the Dispute Settlement Body in 2004.
- In 2005, she became the first woman to chair the WTO’s General Council.
- Between 2001 and 2005, she was a Member of the Executive Boards and Committees of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
- Between 2006 and 2007, she acted as Director for both Europe and Commonwealth Countries as well as Diaspora matters desks.
Detour to the Ministry of Justice
After the 2007 General Elections, the then President, HE Mwai Kibaki, plucked Dr. Amina Mohamed from her UN role and appointed her to the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs to serve as the Permanent Secretary.
She supervised the drafting, negotiation, national referendum, and promulgation of the new Constitution of Kenya 2010, including institutional reforms on elections, ethics and integrity, access to justice and the development of a national cohesion policy.
It must be remembered that this was a particularly tense time for the country following the unfortunate events of the 2007-2008 Post Election Violence (PEV). Renewed faith for the clamour for a new constitution and the electoral process was desperately needed, making Ambassador Mohamed’s job at the Ministry of Justice highly critical. Although the orientation of the job was different—in that it was a locally focused role – the diplomatic skills required to succeed were no different from those that had helped her excel at the UN.
The process of drafting of the new constitution required strong and principled diplomacy owing to the different and sometimes competing needs of the stakeholders involved. It also required the leadership of a strong legal mind who understood the finer nuances of constitutional law. Amb. Mohamed was adept at this job, helping bestow on Kenyans the gift of a new constitution that has been widely acclaimed as being the most progressive in the world.
Coming back home
When President Uhuru Kenyatta took office in 2013, he assembled a team of 18 cabinet appointees—Amb. Amina Mohamed was among the first four of the appointees on the list. The president appointed her Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Foreign Affairs and International Trade. This was indeed, a homecoming for the CS in many ways, considering she was now heading the Ministry that she had dedicated most of her early years in public service to.
However, despite all the experience and contacts CS Mohamed had built at the Ministry of Foreign affairs, the job at the helm of the docket was anything but easy. Kenya’s international image at the time had greatly been undermined by the cases against the President and his Deputy, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Haque. To compound matters, Kenya’s position on the case was clear: the ICC was not best suited to handle Africa’s problems owing to its historical bias against the continent’s leaders. It was on Amb. Dr. Amina Mohamed’s shoulders that the country placed all its diplomatic tools and skills to navigate the legal and international image issues.
CS Mohamed did a stellar job advancing Kenya’s position on the ICC issue and building alliances with likeminded countries and organizations across Africa. By the time the cases fell through, many African countries, including South Africa, Uganda, Gambia, and Burundi, had voiced their concerns about the bias the ICC held towards African leaders. Some had even threatened to quit.
After correcting the misperceptions around the ICC cases, CS Mohamed focused her attention to the image rebuilding front, breathing new life into bilateral and multilateral partnerships with old and new partners and allies. This was immediately successful. In 2015, Kenya hosted the first-ever World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference on African soil. In the same year, Kenya also hosted former U.S. President Barack Obama and the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. These significant visits and meetings were followed in quick succession in 2016, with Kenya hosting UNCTAD’s 14th session and the first Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) on African soil.
While at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, CS Amina Mohamed was able to turn the diplomatic and economic tide in five short years. In the first year alone, CS Amina Mohamed skills and diplomatic finesse contributed to raising the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by 400%.
During President Kenyatta’s second term, CS Amina Mohamed’s career took an interesting turn, when she was appointed the first woman CS in the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in 2018, taking over from CS Matiang’i who had been moved to the Interior docket.
At the Ministry of Education, CS Mohamed was lauded for the administration of the 2018 national examinations. She also achieved a 93% transition of pupils finishing primary school to join high school – the highest in Kenyan history at the time. She also devised and implemented a Special Needs Education policy and restructured the Higher Education Loans Board which provides student loans in Kenya.
Her reforms in the Vocational Training Centers increased enrollment in vocational training by 100% as she also built institutes throughout the country, including the most expansive and in far flung counties of Kenya. CS Amina Mohamed negotiated lower college fees for students in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutes, broadening skills acquisition and access to tertiary education. For the first time since independence, TVET students can now access government loans to finance their training.
She also expanded TVET institutions’ establishment funding to construct 30 additional institutions in the 2018/2019 financial year in vast counties. This was part of a 5-year plan to skill five million young Kenyans with transferrable skills to support decent livelihoods.
CS Amina Mohamed recognized the value of research in higher education and negotiated a research grant of Ksh. 4 billion to this effect. Successfully rolled out the Competency Based Curriculum in January 2019 commencing an elaborate process of curriculum change to align Kenya’s population to the demands of a changing world.
In 2019, after just a year in the Education Ministry, CS Amina Mohamed was moved once again. This time, she was appointed CS for Sports, Heritage and Culture.
This job, like the one she took at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has not been easy. The sports ministry has historically been underfunded by the National Treasury.
“We have always budgeted for our programmes, but often times the Ministry of Sports gets less of what is captured in printed estimates. The question to pose at this juncture is why the Ministry never gets resources allocated in printed estimates,” CS Amina Mohamed said when speaking to the Committee on Sports in the National Assembly in 2019.
In addition to funding challenges, which have led to delays in construction of national stadiums and setback in implementation of various projects, CS Amina Mohamed has also had to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, which paralyzed sporting events around the whole world in 2020.
Despite these challenges, CS Mohamed has brought new momentum to the sports docket. After the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination nationally, she moved with speed to ensure Kenyan athletes, coaches and sporting staff participating in international games got the jab. By April this year, 4,600 individuals from our national teams had been inoculated, allowing them to participate in important international games such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which have been rescheduled due to the pandemic.
Following months of engagements with Federation’ Internationale Automobile (FIA) and the World Rally Championship (WRC) Promoter, CS Mohamed was able to secure rights to host one round of the prestigious global competition in Kenya, through the WRC Safari Rally as it is popularly known is the highest level of global competition in motorsport. Safari Rally has not been hosted as part of the WRC in Kenya for 19 years, despite its heritage of having been one of the most challenging and grueling of the WRC events in the previous years. The Safari Rally was first held in 1953, to commemorate the first visit of the current reigning British Monarch’s to Kenya.
Another notable milestone is the partnership CS Amina Mohamed has managed to establish with Moi University to institute the African Athletics Development Center in Eldoret. The center is more than just a facility for local and international athletes to train. It is expected to deploy the latest training technology, support research into sports and serve as a hub for sports tourism. Importantly, it will equip athletes with critical financial, entrepreneurial and life skills. This is timely in view of the many unfortunate stories of former star athletes wallowing in poverty and desperation despite earning millions of shillings in the peak of their careers.
From Kakamega to the World
It is hard to believe that someone who is fluent in English, Russian, Swahili and has a working knowledge of French had a very ordinary childhood in Kakamega County. CS Amina Mohamed attended the Township Primary School in Kakamega and later Butere Girls and Highlands Girls High School.
She is the eighth of nine siblings.
Her academic excellence in Kakamega opened the door to global opportunities and she secured a scholarship to study Law at Taras Shevchenko University in Kiev, Ukraine. Here, she pursued her undergraduate studies (LL.B) as well as her Master of Law (LL.M) in International Law.
During her career, she has received the following national honours and awards, including:
- Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (EGH)
- Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (CBS)
- Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity (Cav.O.S.S.I.)
- Life Member of the Red Cross Society
- Member of the Life and Peace Institute International Advisory Council
- Honorary Doctorate from KCA University
- Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Arctic
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun
One of the most trusted of the CSs, HE the President of Kenya has nominated Amb. Dr. Amina Mohamed to global responsibilities, where she has flown the Kenya flag, including as a candidate for the powerful and prestigious Chair of the African Union (AU) and as Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).