What’s Kenya’s interest in Eritrea? Amina Mohamed courts Afwerki

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed has visited the state of Eritrea on the Red Sea as she continues her campaign to become the next chairperson of the African Union.

Candidates from Senegal, Mali, Botswana and Equatorial Guinea are also vying for leadership of the AU Commission.

In a public statement after meeting President Isaias Afwerki at his office, the Kenyan top diplomat said, “The discussions held were cordial and friendly, and covered bilateral and global developments.”

She added, “We discussed with the President the need to have a Joint Commission for Cooperation to deal with bilateral issues.”

The foreign minister also endorsed the idea of a “formal umbrella agreement” to deal with areas of concern, but did not say what substantively this would be about.

Kenya and Eritrea have played sometimes opposing roles in Somalia, where Eritrea has in the past supported militant group Al-Shabaab whereas Kenya has battled it. There is no indication that this was on the agenda, however.

It is likely that Amina Mohamed either directly discussed with the Eritrean leader her candidacy for the AU post, or that this was the subject of a letter that she delivered to him from her boss President Uhuru Kenyatta. In a statement just a day before her visit, Kenya’s Foreign Ministry said that it had “upped lobbying for the position of Chairperson of the AU Commission,” adding that it would leave nothing to chance.

Eritrea’s information ministry, for its part, quoted President Afwerki as saying that it is urgent for “both the African Union and the regional organizations such as IGAD to get their acts together to advance the widely shared objectives of the continent’s economic integration.”

The statement adds that Afwerki urged Amina Mohamed for Kenya to “play its due role in the Horn of Africa,” without elaborating on this.

The Afwerki-Mohamed meeting in the Eritrean capital is likely to displease neighboring Ethiopia, which has long sought to isolate its northern rival.