My day with King Philippe

King Philippe of Belgium. PHOTO | AFP

As a young man living in the village, there was one thing I dreamt about: ‘meeting with a king’. Amazingly, this dream was realised on Thursday, October 13, 2022, when I met King Philippe of Belgium to formally present my credentials as Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium.

The meticulous preparation to meet the King started early. The protocol office gave detailed instructions on what to wear and what to do on the day of the event. As required, my colleagues from the office and I rented long-tailed tuxedos for the occasion.

At exactly 10am, a military official walked into my office. He alerted me: “We have come to take you to the King.” Outside the office were five motorbike outriders and two Mercedes Benz cars. Meanwhile, the police had stopped vehicles on both sides of the road including trams. I was ushered into the first car in which I sat at the back seat with the military officer. Then followed the razzmatazz of driving a VIP.

It was an occasion that I will never forget in my lifetime.

In the car, I asked the officer. “Do you really have to do all this for me?” He responded: “Aren’t you representing your head of state here?” With that response, I calmed down to ask for his name. “I am Lieutenant General Mac.” “You are a General in the Army?” I asked him. “Yes, I am the Vice Chair.” “And you came to pick me up?” Yes. Holly gracious!” I quipped. It is for Kenya, not me, I reminded myself and things started to fall into place.

As we approached the palace, the Horse Unit of the Belgian Royal Escort was approaching. I asked the General, “What are they for?” “They are coming to welcome you,” he responded. Never in my life did I have any thought of such distinct honour. At the entrance to the palace, a military official opened my door to usher the General, my colleagues and me up the stairs into a large reception area.

Two officials met us and gave me detailed instructions.

As we walked into another large room, right in front of us was the King in his ceremonial regalia. We were 20 metres away as we bowed to His Majesty. I then walked towards the King and stopped two metres away to formally hand over my credentials. He accepted them and handed them to his aide as he invited me to his expansive office.

He made brief remarks and congratulated Kenyans for peaceful elections and the handover of power. He, however, was concerned about the conflict in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I thanked his Majesty for the opportunity to address issues concerning our people in the East African Community. I took the opportunity to confirm Kenya’s commitment to peace and security around the Great Lakes Region. I emphasised the fact that President William Ruto had appointed his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, as his peace envoy for the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa.

As I was finishing explaining the developments in East Africa, His Majesty asked me what will be my agenda in Belgium.

I saw the opportunity to explain Kenya’s sustainable development priorities. The green agenda and food security. Besides my normal diplomacy work, and my engagement at a bilateral level, I will focus my attention on disruptive research, creative industries, and innovation. And that these initiatives will require collaboration between our two countries.

I also explained that within the first month that I have been in Brussels, I visited the University of Antwerp and arranged a virtual conference between the institution and Kenyan scientists to leverage new research which is expected to transform arid and semiarid areas into a food basket of Kenya.

It is important to note that the bilateral focus resonates well with President Ruto’s agricultural transformation and the European Union’s (EU) agenda on climate change. I have already made proposals to the EU Africa Desk to re-think Africa’s development, giving priority to sectors promoting high-value job creation, like creative industries. The transformation will never come from traditional thinking.

In his final remarks, His Majesty King Philippe said, “You have a clear agenda.” I will deliver, but those five words will remain with me throughout my life.

I further explained that it was urgent for Africa to consider the research that is going on at UA since most African soils are over two hundred million years old and have not undergone volcanic or glacial rejuvenation. As a result, their inherent fertility was getting depleted. The researchers were working on a process known as enhanced weathering to improve soil quality. Healthy agricultural soils play a significant role in climate change mitigation and adaptation by storing (or sequestering) carbon, soaking up water like a sponge, and reducing nitrogen loss to the environment.

The writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organization. The article is written at a personal level.

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