In a diplomatic meeting held at the United Nations offices in Nairobi on 26 April, the Romanian ambassador to Kenya, Dragos Viorel Tigau reportedly made a comment that has ignited a wave of controversy within the diplomatic community.
The incident occurred during discussions with the Eastern European group of diplomats, where the ambassador allegedly referred to the African group by stating, “The African group has joined us,” after observing a black monkey in the vicinity.
This appeared to draw a connection between the presence of a monkey and the African group of diplomats who were not present during the time of the meeting.
Mr. Tigau in his capacity as Chair of the Eastern European States Regional Group had convened a meeting at the UN compound, Conference Room 9, according to diplomatic sources who spoke to Kenyan Foreign Policy.
The comment, perceived by some who attended the meeting as insensitive and disrespectful, has prompted the African group of diplomats to seek clarification and address the matter with relevant authorities.
While the specific details and intentions behind the remark remain under scrutiny, the incident has raised important questions about cultural sensitivity and the need for respectful communication within the diplomatic community.
Sources close to the African group indicate that they have protested with both the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the accused ambassador.
Additionally, efforts have been made to engage the United Nations Office at Nairobi, located near the incident, seeking further clarification and action in response to the alleged remark.
The Director General of the United Nations office in Nairobi, Zainab Bangura, has however been accused of “laxity” in the way her office is handling the matter.
The African diplomats have emphasized the importance of fostering a climate of mutual respect, understanding, and cultural sensitivity within the diplomatic sphere, calling for appropriate measures to address incidents that may undermine diplomatic relations and perpetuate stereotypes or biases.
“The African group wishes to refer to the fact that as early as 1948, the universal declaration of human rights proclaimed that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and freedoms set out therein, without distinction of any kind, in particular as to race, color or national origin,” read part of the protest letter addressed to the UN Director General in Nairobi.
These diplomats led by the South Sudanese ambassador to Kenya, in his capacity as acting Dean of the African Group, have also demanded a written and a public unconditional apology from the Romanian ambassador, arguing that he should also apologize to the people of Africa, where the United Nations office sits.
According to the protest letter, the African diplomats had earlier threatened to walk out of the UN-Habitat Assembly that is ongoing in Nairobi in protest demanding an apology from the diplomat.
In light of the controversy, a senior diplomatic official in Nairobi asked about the action likely to be taken and argues that the host country can simply ask the accused ambassador to leave.
“Kenya would simply tell the UN to confirm the incident and then ask them to take appropriate action,” said the diplomatic source.
The accused ambassador and the European diplomatic community are yet to release an official statement regarding the incident.
By the time of going to press, Kenyan Foreign Policy had officially reached out to the Romanian ambassador for a comment but he hadn’t responded to our email, asking him to shed light on the context and intentions behind the remark.
Nairobi has also remained mum despite receiving a protest note from the African diplomats.
We will update the story once the accused ambassador, the UN office, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs respond.
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