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
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
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