Kenya’s For­eign Pol­icy Re­de­fined

Un­til re­cently, Kenya op­er­ated largely on the prin­ci­ple of non-in­ter­fer­ence in the af­fairs of its neigh­bours, and crit­ics say its for­eign pol­icy de­pended largely on in­ter­ests that served Nairobi at a par­tic­u­lar time. RON­ALD BERA re­ports

Diplomat East Africa - - Table of Contents -

For the first time since in­de­pen­dence in 1963, Kenya has launched and made public two im­por­tant doc­u­ments on its for­eign and di­as­pora poli­cies.

Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta said the coun­try had re­de­fined its for­eign pol­icy to en­sure that it sup­ported ro­bust re­cip­ro­cal bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral re­la­tions in trade, tax­a­tion and in­vest­ment.

“While the For­eign Pol­icy doc­u­ment lays out the prin­ci­ples that gov­ern our en­gage­ment with the world, the Di­as­pora Pol­icy will guide us in har­ness­ing the wealth and ex­per­tise of Kenyans ot to our devel­op­ment ef­forts,” he said, un­der­scor­ing the im­por­tance of the two doc­u­ments in main­tain­ing the roles the coun­try played re­gion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

They are meant to guide Kenya’s for­eign re­la­tions and diplo­matic en­gage­ments with its part­ners with poli­cies ‘in­clined to­wards up­hold­ing sovereignty, pro­mot­ing uni­ver­sal peace and fos­ter­ing bet­ter re­la­tions with our neigh­bors, the rest of the African con­ti­nent and the world at large,’ said the For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tary Ms Amina Mo­hamed.

The doc­u­ments, ap­proved by the Cabi­net be­tween Novem­ber and De­cem­ber last year af­ter ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tions with the di­as­pora and Kenyan mis­sions abroad, were re­ceived pos­i­tively by diplo­mats – es­pe­cially the for­eign pol­icy doc­u­ment which was hailed as a ‘now for­mal pro­ce­dure of en­gage­ment.’

“We used to make up or make do with is­sues as we went along. At least now we have a ref­er­ence point,” said a source at the Min­istry of For­eign af­fairs.

In the past, Kenya has been crit­i­cised in the way it en­gaged ex­ter­nally. Un­til re­cently, Kenya op­er­ated largely on a prin­ci­ple of non-in­ter­fer­ence in its neigh­bours’ af­fairs, and crit­ics said its for­eign pol­icy de­pended largely on in­ter­ests that suited it at a par­tic­u­lar time.

“Kenya’s pol­icy has of­ten been gov­erned by rather more con­ser­va­tive and le­git­imist think­ing, no­tably where any rad­i­cal de­par­ture from the sta­tus quo is con­tem­plated. It would ap­pear that where for­eign pol­icy is­sues touch di­rectly on pri­mary Kenyan in­ter­ests—say, na­tional se­cu­rity, na­tional devel­op­ment—the overt rad­i­cal­ism of Kenya’s broad in­ter­na­tional pol­icy is sub­ject to con­sid­er­able re­straint,” wrote John How­ell an In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Khar­toum, on his anal­y­sis of Kenyan

For­eign Pol­icy.


It is this timely suit­abil­ity that has been at play in the last sev­eral years. Since Kenya got in­volved with the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC), Nairobi’s for­eign re­la­tions have been some­what de­fin­i­tive.

The ICC-fac­tor and Kenya’s diplo­macy were ar­tic­u­lated in the pe­riod be­fore the 2013 elec­tions and the pe­riod af­ter.

Af­ter the 2007/08 poll vi­o­lence and sub­se­quent me­di­a­tion, a Bill – pegged on the timely cre­ation of a lo­cal tri­bunal that would try the al­leged per­pe­tra­tors of vi­o­lence – was tabled in par­lia­ment. But it was de­feated be­cause of highly politi­cised rea­sons.

An in­de­pen­dent hu­man rights watch­dog re­port of the post­elec­tion vi­o­lence, re­leased then, named some prom­i­nent serv­ing politi­cians as hav­ing been re­spon­si­ble for the vi­o­lence. The re­port heav­ily in­flu­enced dis­cus­sions of the Bill in par­lia­ment and led to one of the most di­vi­sive mo­ments of the Kenyan par­lia­ment.

Those named in the re­port sup­ported an ICC process be­cause they ex­pected it to take longer, and hence not hurt fu­ture po­lit­i­cal plans – like run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2013. While those not named sup­ported the cre­ation of a lo­cal tri­bunal, in part be­cause they thought the process of in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion would be faster and flex­i­ble.

In the end, par­lia­ment could not agree on the cre­ation of a lo­cal tri­bunal within the spec­i­fied time, and the me­di­a­tor Kofi Annan for­warded the famed sealed en­ve­lope to the ICC. Six prom­i­nent Kenyans be­lieved to bear the most re­spon­si­bil­ity in the vi­o­lence were in­dicted. At the con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, three were ac­quit­ted and Uhuru Keny­atta, Wil­liam Ruto, and Joshua Sang were in­dicted.

Later on in 2013, Uhuru Keny­atta and Wil­liam Ruto ran for pres­i­dent and deputy pres­i­dent, re­spec­tively, against Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. The ICC is­sue took cen­tre stage in the cam­paigns with Odinga and Musyoka (run­ning un­der the Coali­tion for Re­form and Democ­racy-CORD) ques­tion­ing whether per­sons ac­cused of in­ter­na­tional crimes should lead the coun­try, let alone run for the two high­est of­fices in the land.

Kenya’s for­eign pol­icy and diplo­matic fate were Keny­atta and Ruto elected, mot­tled the whole elec­tion and post-elec­tion pe­riod. Odinga and Musyoka cease­lessly ar­gued that a win for the two would put the coun­try in an un­ten­able po­si­tion diplo­mat­i­cally, and even in­voked the hu­mor­ous con­cept of gov­ern­ing the coun­try via Skype.

The US and other West­ern play­ers added their voice to the is­sue, telling Kenyan vot­ers that their choices would have con­se­quences in­ter­na­tion­ally. If the pair was elected, their as­so­ci­a­tion with the Kenyan gov­ern­ment would be re­stricted to min­i­mal con­tact which would not in­clude di­rect deal­ings with the two lead­ers. This failed to dis­cour­age vot­ers whose views be­came painfully ev­i­dent in who they voted in.


In the lead-up to the 2013 elec­tion, the ICC fac­tor acted as the ma­jor strate­gic el­e­ment in ev­ery po­lit­i­cal blue print. It was the one key as­pi­rants needed to gain favour mov­ing for­ward.

For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Kalonzo Musyoka, hop­ing to gain Pres­i­dent’s Mwai Kibaki’s favour as his ideal suc­ces­sor, ac­cepted a fu­tile un­der­tak­ing of shut­tling to var­i­ous African cap­i­tals try­ing to stop the pros­e­cu­tion of those in­dicted by the ICC.

Back in the coun­try Prime Min­is­ter Raila Odinga, ex­pect­ing to gain Ruto’s favour and by ex­ten­sion his po­lit­i­cal might, tried to play down the feel­ing that he was in­volved in Ruto’s and Keny­atta’s ICC-en­twined fates.

But if ICC was the ma­jor strate­gic el­e­ment in the lead-up to the 2013 elec­tion, it be­came the dom­i­nant fac­tor in the post-elec­tion pe­riod.

The West failed to congratulate Uhuru Keny­atta upon his elec­tion as Pres­i­dent. Pres­i­dent Obama on his tour of Africa skipped Kenya on the ba­sis that the Kenyan pres­i­dent was an ICC in­ductee. And Lon­don, de­spite invit­ing him to a se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence on So­ma­lia, de­nied him a photo-op with Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron in front of the fa­mous en­trance to the Pre­mier’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence, No 10 Down­ing Street.

This per­ceived stance by the West was not lost to the Kenyan gov­ern­ment and it im­me­di­ately looked to the East, which was rather quick to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by the po­lit­i­cal rhetoric.

In­deed as the For­eign Af­fairs Sec­re­tary de­clared at a past in­ter­view with Diplo­mat East Africa: “Lessons from our var­i­ous level of en­gage­ment have raised some chal­lenges that have made us ex­e­cute our re­la­tions dif­fer­ently.”

Con­ceiv­ably, some would ar­gue that the shift to the East is best seen in terms of Kenya’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic mod­er­a­tion and of its con­tin­u­ing re­liance on the West­ern world.

Ac­cord­ing to Mo­hamed, five in­ter­linked pil­lars – peace, econ­omy, di­as­pora, en­vi­ron­ment and cul­ture – an­chor and char­ac­terise the coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy

It is this timely suit­abil­ity that has been at play in the last sev­eral years. Since Kenya got in­volved with the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC), Nairobi’s for­eign re­la­tions have been some­what de­fin­i­tive

MEET­ING OF MINDS: Pres­i­dent Keny­atta with CS Mo­hamed (cen­tre) and other

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