NAIROBI, Kenya, June 20 – Dr Christian Turner is very proud of his Maasai rungu; black with a handle adorned in red, white and blue beads – the colours of the British flag.
It’s displayed prominently on a side table bedecked with family photographs in the room where he receives guests at his official residence.
Set on a cabinet at the entrance of the reception room is a replica of UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Fort Jesus, and a gift from Mombasa governor Ali Hassan Joho –a few of the mementos he’s collected in his three years as Britain’s High Commissioner to Kenya.
A day later, he stands on a podium and announces that it would be his fourth and final Queen’s Birthday Party (QBP) address in Kenya as High Commissioner.
It’s befitting then that seated behind him, as guest of honour, is the man who received his credentials on his deployment to Kenya, former President Mwai Kibaki.
That was in mid-2012 and in a play on the Big Five in his QBP speech, Turner reflects on the High Commission’s achievements, under his leadership, since his last QBP speech.
The King of the Jungle, predictably stands for defence, closely related, perhaps by virtue of its size is the elephant which stands for security, the buffalo trade and investment and the Rhino, tourism.
And in keeping with the origins of the phrase, they could also be seen as the hardest animals Christian has had to face down.
But the smooth-faced, Swahili talking envoy is not one to be underestimated.
“If you misquote me, I’ll report you to your Editor,” he sternly told a journalist at a press briefing following his last QBP address.
The said journalist had come in late and therefore not heard the High Commissioner clarify that Britain had advised against all but essential travel to Mombasa in the wake of terror attacks there and had not asked its citizens to leave Kenya.
“We have three more levels in our travel advice before we get to evacuation but it was not against the whole country and I was not advising 25,000 people to leave.”
At the time, Britain had been painted as ‘abandoning’ Kenya as the war against terrorism intensified.
It’s a good thing then that just before his last QBP address as British High Commissioner to Kenya, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office revised the said advisory and he didn’t have to go on the defensive.
Defence, the lion, has been another minefield that Turner has had to navigate in his time as Britain’s High Commissioner to Kenya. Specifically, the question of whether Britain and its former colony, Kenya, would reach an agreement that would allow British soldiers to continue to train in the country.
“The lawyers have to ensure that such an agreement would be in compliance with Kenya’s current constitution,” he explains the day before the QBP.
That leaves the buffalo, trade and investment, in the room.
Given China’s growing influence on the African continent, Turner has had to go out of his way to try and “correct the impression that Britain feels threatened.
Especially given the conclusions that were drawn, erroneously or otherwise, during last year’s Madaraka Day celebrations when President Uhuru Kenyatta, ‘abandoned’ the traditional British Land Rover for a Toyota Land Cruiser when he made his customary lap of honour.
Later in the month, during the QBP, Turner assured, “the UK and China enjoy a vibrant partnership.”
But on Kibaki’s exit and President Kenyatta’s election close to a year after Turner took office as Britain’s High Commissioner to Kenya, there were those who doubted the partnership between Kenya and its former colonial master would continue to be vibrant.
This was informed by the, “essential contact only,” position the European Union had taken on President Kenyatta who was at the time facing Crimes Against Humanity charges before the International Criminal Court.
A year after President Kenyatta’s election, Turner was still trying to convince the doubting Thomases that the Kenyan government did not bear a grudge and that all was well between the two, as was Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed.
And despite what Turner described as, “differences of view,” particularly over travel advisories to Kenya and the ban on Miraa (Khat) exports to Europe, it was all smiles when Mohamed and Turner helped Kibaki cut into the QBP cake on Thursday.
Turner, as is expected, hasn’t been shy about standing up for Her Majesty the Queen’s government. Even if it’s meant he’s had to take that battle out onto the wild Twitter-sphere. At one time using the forum to defend the realm against one @bikozulu’s charge that the UK’s visa application process is pompous.
But it hasn’t all been a battlefront for the envoy, the best thing to happen under his watch, he says, is Britain’s acknowledgement of wrongdoing during the colonial period and the compensation of Mau Mau war veterans.
And through his ups and downs, it would appear, he hasn’t lost his sense of humour.
“If there’s going to be any gyrating, it’s going to be turned up,” he jokes the day before his last QBP as Britain’s High Commissioner to Kenya.
He makes the joke in reference to the anticipated performance by boy band Sauti Sol at the party.
At the party itself, he jokes how the Lewa Marathon has been the toughest thing he’s ever had to do as Britain’s envoy to Kenya. “I was lapped by a boy in slippers. The only running I’m going to do from now on is a bath.”
And it would also appear that the envoy who describes himself as, “high energy,” won’t be leaving without learning a thing or two.
“I won’t be making the same mistake as my good friend Bob Collymore. If anyone asks me, I love Kenyan food; ugali and even mursik.”