There are a number of coincidences linking the outgoing and incoming UK High Commissioners. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Glass Ceilings
Neil Wigan, the incoming UK High Commissioner to Kenya, has the unique experience of replacing UK ambassadors who broke the respective diplomatic glass ceilings in the countries that they served. When Neil was posted to Tel Aviv, Israel, by his government, he replaced David Quarrey, who was the first openly gay ambassador. In Kenya, he will be replacing Jane Marriott, who made history as the first female British envoy to Kenya.
Neil Wigan will land in Nairobi from Tel Aviv to find that Israel, his former post, is embedded in the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) through the Israeli National Cyber Directorate (INCD), which is offering cyber security services to Kenya by installing a so-called “Cyber Dome” like the Iron Dome that protects Israel’s airspace.
When Jane Marriott lands in Islamabad, Pakistan, she will find that Pakistan’s NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) is heavily involved in Kenya’s biometric passports and its proposed digital ID project.
Incidentally, Marriott will replace Dr. Christian Turner as High Commissioner. Dr. Turner is also a former High Commissioner to Kenya, where he served from 2012 to 2015. And before that, he was the Private Secretary to the UK Prime Minister, amongst other high roles. He is now back in London from his Islamabad tour; now he is the powerful Political Director at the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office.
3. Revolving Door of Countries
The British government seems to rotate the same ambassadors in the same region. This makes sense since it preserves institutional memory and the diplomats are familiar with the issues of the region. Both Wigan and Marriott are veterans of East Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East. Wigan has served in Somalia, DRC, and Israel and now arrives in Kenya while Jane has served in Kenya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran and is now headed to Pakistan.
4. Advisors to Advisors
Neil Wigan used to work for the Foreign Policy Advisor to the UK Prime Minister, while Jane Marriott used to work for the late Richard Holbrooke, Afghanistan, and Pakistan Advisor to then US President Barack Obama (2009-2010).
Both Wigan and Marriott were educated at Britain’s most famous rival universities, Oxford and Cambridge, collectively known as Oxbridge. Both universities are over 800 years old. Marriott is a Cambridge graduate while Wigan is an Oxford man.
London has therefore demonstrated a pattern of sending her best officers – the A-Team – to her Nairobi station, which she must consider an important embassy in what is arguably Africa’s most important diplomatic city.
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