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Kenya foreign policy and international relations – Kenya and the world

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It has been a 50-year old journey for Kenya towards self-realisation and assertiveness in foreign policy and international relations, which has been beholden to prevailing internal and external interests

Kenya’s role in United Nations Peace-Keeping missions around the World is one major foreign policy success. Our soldiers are amongst the most professional and effective peace-keepers in the world and Kenya is one of the 10 leading contributor nations to the United Nations peace-keeping operations and engagements.

They have seen service and action in Somalia, Europe, Middle-East, Africa, Gulf-region and the Asian continent with distinction and exemplary service, and professionalism.

They were retained by the Commonwealth during the lead—up to Zimbabwean independence in 1980 and the African Union on peace-keeping operations and missions in Somalia and elsewhere. They have been retained, trained and configured as part of a large African Standby Peace-Keeping Brigade including as a logistical base in the fight against piracy and counter-terrorism in the region including the western rim of the Indian Ocean.

Kenya’s foreign policy has in most instances been moulded and directed by the President, who is the chief foreign policy shaper. Consequently, the policy must first be contextualized through the President’s selection of his foreign policy key champion — the minister (now Cabinet Secretary) of Foreign Affairs and the prevailing international geo—political environment.

The final authority, therefore, on foreign policy formulation, conduct and projection lies in the hands of the President. There have been in the past half a century of Kenya’s Independence four presidents, namely the late Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki and, currently, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenya’s presidents in the past five decades have been a study in different personalities and abilities. They reacted to different international geo—p0litical situations. Each faced different challenges, including their personal input in actual conduct of foreign relations.

This is perhaps best captured by the personal engagement and diplomatic honorific (s) that inform such bilateral and multi-lateral relations. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s clarion call in his inauguration speech on April 9, 2013 was summed up in one loaded phrase mutual reciprocity. Notwithstanding his personal predicament at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, President Kenyatta has made clear his intentions to steer Kenya to greater independence at the global diplomatic arena. President Uhuru Kenyatta is both a study of renewed energy, vigour and focus in the Government’s foreign policy.

It is abundantly clear that Kenya’s foreign policy will henceforth not be the same in substance, formulation, execution and conduct. It shall be driven, articulated and dispensed with vigour, and perhaps devoid of the hitherto subdued elocution of the traditional diplomatic discourse and norms.

The tell -tale signs of this new diplomatic deportment and elocution were in public display during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration on when he called for reciprocity from Kenya’s foreign partners, hence forth as the cornerstone of Kenya’s foreign relations and engagement With the international community.

But perhaps the best display of the President’s vigour, drive and energy and determination to project a different foreign policy desire was on display at the Extraordinary Session of African Heads of States and Governments in Addis Ababa in October 2013. President Kenyatta’s delivery, deportment and elocution to his peers was the most intense and forceful performance by a Kenyan Head of State on foreign policy.

Notwithstanding Kenya’s hitherto traditional pro-western foreign policy posture, President Uhuru Kenyatta has left few doubts that Kenya seeks a drastic and dramatic new foreign policy engagement with its traditional allies; an intensified drive for regional and continental cooperation, and will not be held hostage by historical linkages and traditions – be they strategic, economic, military or cultural ties.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has been sending clear and unambiguous message; that the Jubilee Coalition leadership is intent on pursuing a more forceful and driven foreign policy.

In the first decade of Independence (l963 – 73), Kenya operated in a bipolar world split between the Cold War rivals of the capitalist West led by the United States of America and the communist East led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

In between these two mutually exclusive and hostile dominant global forces were the trophy countries of the Non-Aligned Movement in which the two powers and ideologies competed for influence.

This Western/ Eastern rivalry was, for newly independent nation states like Kenya, a minefield in the conduct of international affairs. To survive, it required great political-cum-diplomatic skills, realpolitik, foresight and clarity.

For Kenya, this duopoly was made all the more acute and sensitive due to its own violent colonial history and protracted negotiations for Independence in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion (1952-1960).

In this case, Kenya was perceived by the two world power blocs as a key country in the eastern Africa region whose international political and economic relations were valuable, if not critical. As the most advanced country in the region with a fairly well developed infrastructure and a deep natural harbour close to the Gulf of Eden, Kenya’s conduct of foreign policy was of keen interest to the rival power blocs.

At the dawn of Independence in 1963, Kenya was already earmarked as key regional player in the East-West rivalry. This rivalry played out in all spheres of the new nation’s social—political and economic lives and was to, a large extent, the defining prism through which Kenya’s international relations were bench-marked.

Despite public rhetorical posturing by its leadership, Kenya was deeply integrated into the Western-world’s sphere of influence.

In his memoirs, The Reds and the Blacks, William Attwood, then US ambassador in Nairobi, portrays the intensity of the battle to win over Kenya from a combined diplomatic offensive by the Soviet Union and China. While the US fought through Jomo Kenyatta and people like Tom Mboya, the East’s proxy was Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

In his seminal work, Kenya between Hope and Despair l 963 – 2011, Daniel Branch, a renowned British scholar and an acclaimed political analyst writes about a May 1963 electoral victory party hosted by Odinga in which this bare-fisted East-West diplomatic rivalry and posturing manifested.

The de—colonization process had also gathered steam closer home in countries like Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Bechuanaland (Botswana).

Newly independent Belgian Congo (now DR Congo) was in the grip of civil strife while in the Horn of Africa, Somalia was pursuing an openly expansionist policy. There was also trouble in the Arab-ruled Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba.

Kenya had to exercise pragmatism in dealing with the two world power camps. At the regional level, the country was expected to exercise prudence and caution not to antagonize its neighbours Uganda and then Tanganyika while guarding against an expansionist Somalia.

At the continental level, Kenya was expected to offer diplomatic support to the liberation movements of central and southern Africa, under the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), while at the same time being part of the nascent Non-Aligned Movement under the leadership of Yugoslavia’s Josip Tito and Jawaharlal Nehru of India.

Kenya also had to enhance bilateral relations with predominantly Western states due to its colonial investment links and ties, including security infrastructure. At the multilateral level, Kenya had to seek to join all regional and international institutions, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Bretton Woods Institutions.

Jomo Kenyatta’s foreign policy revolved around a seemingly neutral phraseology – non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, non-aligned in the larger East West global power politics and a supporter of the decolonisation movements in Africa.

At Independence, therefore, Kenya was at a diplomatic cross-roads. Indeed, Kenyatta had almost two complimentary though different Cabinet ministers exercising foreign policies at the formal and informal level with a designated Minister of Foreign Affairs and a Minister at the Presidency in charge of Pan African Affairs.

This division of international relations was perhaps a sign of a leadership coming to grips with the extent and reach of their foreign relations remit, and need for having a diversified foreign policy master plan.

Baptism by Fire

As Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta was transitioning to Kenya’s President on December 12, 1964, a low intensity insurgency, which first reared its ugly head in 1963, was slowly gaining traction in the north.

It was fed by bungled referendum, conducted by the British in 1962, in the Somali dominated region that was seeking secession and incorporation into Somalia.

Still unresolved also was the issue of the 10 – mile Coastal Strip handed over to Kenya by Zanzibar’s Arabic rulers prior to Independence. Into this mix was the unrelenting ideological contestation within the ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu) party – clearly along Kenyatta’s West-leaning majority and Odinga’s East-leaning minority factions. It was not lost to the Western – bloc that Odinga had espoused his socialist inclinations rather brazenly by courting the Eastern-bloc countries’ support and even by visiting the Soviet Union with over 24 MP5 in tow.

British author Andrew Morton in his 1999 biography of former President Moi, The Making of an African Statesman, asserts that the British Intelligence had kept a watchful eye on Odinga’s close ties with the Eastern—bloc countries. In particular, the then Soviet Union and China and were convinced that he was keen on invoking their support to make Kenya a more socialist-friendly country.

Cuban missile crisis

By 1966, Morton writes, both Kenyatta and his supporters in the West, especially Britain, were more than convinced that Odinga was a major threat that had to be neutralized. This was effected in the same year when Odinga lost the powerful position of Kanu’s vice-president at the Limuru party conference, which saw the creation of eight vice-presidents in the ruling Party-

The international diplomatic scene was polarised further by the unfolding post-Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy of the US in November 1963 and regionally by the Zanzibar anti-Arab revolution.

But in these disparate local, regional and international crises were taxing to a young Kenya under Kenyatta, the 1964 mutiny of some elements of the Kenyan Army, which was contained with the help of British troops.

This security scare coupled with a rapidly escalating insurgency in the North-Eastern Province forced Kenyatta to throw his weight behind the Western-bloc.

As a result, he got crucial support including weapons and training. By the time Tom Mboya’s Sessional Paper on African Socialism of 1965 Was adopted, the Kenyatta government was firmly anchored and embedded in the Western sphere of influence. Henceforth, Kenya’s international relations and conduct of diplomacy and, indeed, its trade and economics, and security posture were beholden to the Western bloc. This remained so ever since.

This pro-West foreign-policy and diplomatic engagement served Kenya’s interest(s) but also opened it to accusations of being a virtual client state of Western interests Within the larger international community. This was despite its African and Non-Aligned diplomatic posturing and rhetoric both at home and internationally.

By 1973, a decade after Independence, whatever remained of Kenya’s affiliation to the Eastern-bloc was probably in some sections of the academia and fringe political groups and individuals with little or no clout.

By this time, Kenya’s support for liberation movements in southern Africa was viewed as being bland, self-serving, if not tokenism, when Weighed against the support provided by other front-line states of Zambia and Tanzania who suffered the brunt of cr0ss—border raids by both Portuguese, Apartheid South African and White Rhodesian troops.

Nearer home, Kenya’s support for South Sudan’s war against Khartoum was decidedly low-keyed.  In 1974, Kenyatta’s contemporary, and perhaps the closest African leader in the region, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, was over-thrown by a Marxist—led military junta which rapidly won support from the Soviet Union. Despite this, Kenya retained close political and military ties with the new Ethiopian regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam on account of the two countries’ mutual suspicion of Somalia’s territorial ambitions. Indeed, the Ogaden war between Ethiopia and Somalia erupted in 1976.

In 1975-76, Kenyatta attempted to broker peace between the three warring Angolan liberation movements without much success. In the same period, Nairobi’s relationship with Idi Amin’s Uganda was tested by two events, the dictator’s territorial claims on Kenya and Kenya’s covert support to the Israeli commando raid on Entebbe Airport to rescue Jewish passengers on a hijacked Air France Jet in 1976.

It was no surprise that in this period, Kenya under Kenyatta became even closer to the West’s interests as they dove-tailed with regional, internal and international developments prevailing.

In quick succession, Kenya hosted United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with the subsequent acquisition of advanced military equipment including F-5 jets and training, and a more explicit and public display of US military engagement in Kenya; including US Navy ship calls in Mombasa.

By this time, Mzee Kenyatta had appointed three Foreign Ministers, but two stand out: Dr Njoroge Mungai Who had moved to the Defence Ministry at the outbreak of the Shifta insurgency and Dr Munyua Waiyaki. Both were medical doctors by training, but were ideologically and in temperament different. Dr Mungai was an unabashedly pro-West While Dr Waiyaki Was, though Western—trained, Wary of Western designs, especially on its support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa and the racist regime of Ian Smith of Rhodesia.

By Kenyatta’s death in August 1978, Kenya’s foreign policy was firmly anchored to the Western sphere of influence.

Nowhere was this perception and interpretation more ingrained and articulated than in Tanzania.

Indeed, Tanzania under Julius Nyerere was ideologically more anti-Western in tone and tenor including its affiliation despite having been part of the larger British-ruled East Africa which had formed an economic bloc in 1967.

By 1977, the East African Community collapsed acrimoniously after years of personal, ideological, political suspicion and antipathy over their divergent internal political and regional dip1omatic-cum-economic and trade policies and affiliations.

Kenya’s embedment to the Western—bloc was increasingly becoming unacceptable to Tanzania, then edging closer to southern African countries of Zambia, Mozambique and Angola on account of its leading role in the support for the African liberation movements in Southern Africa.

If Kenya’s support for the southern African liberation was suspect, at least in the eyes of the region and within the OAU Liberation Committee, its reputation as one of the closet African allies of the Western-bloc was beyond reproach.

Kenya’s diplomatic categorization Was of a democratic, pro-West and vibrant capitalist society in a tough neighbourhood of Marxist-leaning Ethiopia to the North-East, a quasi-clan—dominated, militaristic dictatorship in Somalia to the East, a Chinese—style socialist Tanzania to the South; and tottering quasi-Islamic—leaning military dictatorship of Uganda to the West and Sudan in the North.

Kenya was seen as an island of peace in a turbulent neighbourhood, an envy of all in the region — all thanks to the foresight and vision of Kenyatta’s prosecution of pragmatic domestic and foreign policies.

Kenyatta’s key foreign policy gurus were his brother-in-law and Minister in the Office of the President, Mbiyu Koinange and his personal physician, Dr Njoroge Mungai who served Foreign minister.

Dr Munyua Waiyaki who took over from Dr Mungai was ideologically more pro —African. He was vocal in his support for liberation movements in southern Africa.

The Nyayo Philosophy

As Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel arap Moi pursued the same foreign policy template with minor variations in a rapidly evolving policy environment.

Under his watch, Kenya’s foreign policy, especially on the international arena was more and publicly pro—West as he wore his Christian and pro-capitalist credentials as a badge of honour. Within a year of Moi’s presidency, the fractious relationship between Uganda’s Idi Amin and Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania escalated into full—scale war at the end of 1979, providing him with the first real challenge in regional diplomacy.

Moi was faced with a classical foreign policy dilemma of how to maintain an open trading relationship with the warring neighbours, and in particular Uganda, which was fully dependent on Kenya’s sea port of Mombasa for its export and import trade.

To the north and north-east, Kenya had to negotiate between openly hostile neighbours of Ethiopia and Somalia both under the ambit of the contending super-power blocs.

For Kenya, Ethiopia was a natural ally on account of the two countries large Somali-speaking regions that an expansionist Mogadishu still coveted. Invariably too, both countries had a mutual defence pact against Somalia in existence since the early years of Kenya’s Independence.

Compounding this complicated regional stage was the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and the heightening of the global West-East Cold War posturing and sabre—rattling on the international scene. To add impetus was the southern African liberation Wars both militarily and diplomatically, especially against the then Rhodesian white minority regime and the civil—war in Angola. The South African military was heavily involved in Angola, while also fighting the South-West African Peoples Organisation to hold onto the territory that came to be known as Namibia at Independence.

By the end of 1980, Kenya was still seen as a client-state of the West. Two episodes graphically captured this.

One involved the murder of a Kenyan woman, Monica Njeri, by a US sailor known as Frank Sand-storm in Mombasa. The sailor was freed despite huge public outcry and outrage. Many thought Nairobi did not want to antagonize her US masters by taking a tough stand on the case.

The other involved Kenya boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics at the urging of the US to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

These two episodes exposed a Kenyan foreign policy ensnared and beholden to the whims and dictates of the Western bloc. By then Kenya had signed a number of security-cum-military cooperation agreements and mutual defence pacts with the US, Britain and Israel.

Indeed, in 1980, Kenya suffered one of the Worst terrorist attacks at the then Kenyan Jewish—family owned Norfolk Hotel bombing in Nairobi blamed on Palestinian group(s).

On the continental stage, Kenya hosted the annual OAU summit in 1981 with Moi keeping the group’s chairmanship for an unprecedented two-year terms after a carefully crafted scheme to deny the then Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi any international stage despite his attempts to take over in Tripoli in 1981.

By the time of the attempted coup by elements of the Kenya Air Force on August 1, 1982, Moi was publicly and privately not shy to live up to the image of a key player and convert of the Western-bloc ideals.

Indeed, earlier on in 1980, Kenya was a key player behind the scenes in the British—led negotiations to end the White-Rhodesian racist regime and make way to the birth of Zimbabwe. Kenya contributed peace—keeping troops and transitional arrangements to midwife the birth of Zimbabwe.

By the end of the second decade of Kenya’s Independence in 1983 — Kenya was the biggest ally of the Western bloc in Eastern Africa.

In the 1983-1993 decade, the status quo prevailed despite changes and challenges that Kenya faced. Moi named three foreign policy heads in this period; the lackluster Elijah Mwangale, the academic Zachary Onyonka and the highly articulate Robert Ouko.

Their forte, at least the first two, was their total loyalty to Moi and their lack of ambition for higher national office.

Moi was keen to consolidate and secure his regime from both local and external threats, and he assiduously courted the US and Britain as a bulwark against any designs and plans against his power internally.

But it was at the start of Kenya’s second decade after Independence that the country started paying serious attention to, and became a key player in, regional issues. By early 1985, Moi also started tentatively courting non-traditional Western benefactors and made a trip to China. This opened the first serious entreaties to the emerging Asian power—house. By 1987, the Chinese handed over the biggest sporting facility in Eastern and Central African Region, the Moi International Sports Complex Kasarani, in time for hosting of All Africa Games.

In 1985, Moi brokered a peace deal in Nairobi between rebel leader Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and military leader Gen Tito Okelo. However, Museveni who knew that Okelo’s regime was collapsing ahead of the talks, ignored the agreement and shot his way to power in January 1986.

In the same period, Moi tried his hands in the complex and ever deteriorating internal power crisis in the then Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi in the Great Lakes region. He also had his input in the slowly but steadily unravelling civil-strife in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia with limited degrees of success.

In all these diplomatic engagements, Moi was seeking to project Kenya’s growing stature as a stable, robust island of peace in a turbulent region. He was also trying to supplant the then leading ideological heavy—weight in the region, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

By the end of the 1980s, Kenya’s regional stature and, indeed, Moi’s regional clout was at its peak. It was in such international circumstances that Moi ventured into uncharted diplomatic waters, like visiting Romanian dictator Nicola-Ceausescu who also made a reciprocal visit to Kenya in 1989. Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda were regular visitors to Kenya. And so were Nigeria’s military leader Ibrahim Babangida, Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam and Somalia’s Siad Barre.

The period between 1983-88 could be declared as Kenya’s diplomatic golden age, if the number of visits Moi Went on and the heads of states/governments who visited are anything to go by

They ranged from the British Monarch, the British Prime Minister and Pope John Paul II. In this period, Moi made official visits to Britain, France, Germany, China and the United States. Kenya also hosted the World’s Conference on Women and championed the establishment of the Inter—Governmental Authority on Desertification and Development or currently IGAD. By 1989, Kenya’s high-rolling diplomatic journey was on a high as Kenyan troops joined a United nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia.

Then things started to change both at the regional and international levels. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union in 1989-1990 caught Moi and his foreign policy advisors Wrong-footed. The first shocker was the collapse in quick succession of Mengistu Haile Miriam’s and Said Barre’s regimes in Ethiopia and Somalia. In both instances, Kenya had invested heavily in terms of diplomatic support and their rapid overthrow was perhaps not well-prefaced and planned for in Nairobi.

The collapse of communism and the Soviet Union removed the bigger Western bloc’s ideological and security imperatives in support of client states like Kenya on the international stage. The international economic and military realignments it caused were unprecedented, especially in the Third World.

Perhaps more disenchanting and troublesome for Africa’s Big Man regimes was the Western—bloc’s clamour and jettisoning of their hitherto uncritical support. Instead, the West started agitating for new political dispensations in their client states including pluralism and internal democracy. This caught the Big Men, including Moi, by surprise.

The covert and overt support for internal opposition group(s) was one of Moi’s unnerving experiences with the Western-bloc.

By the early 1990s, Moi’s international diplomatic relations including conduct was more detensive, primarily to stem the growing clamour for multi-partyism.

By 1993, for Moi, like many other beneficiaries of a Western—bloc that paid little or no premium on internal democracy in the Cold War era, the honeymoon was irretrievably over. The message from the West now was: change with the democratic tide or bear the consequences.

For the next one decade (1993-2003), the projection, planning, conduct and implementation of foreign policy was purely defensive, reactive and informed by one singular, objective — succession management.

In the last decade of Moi’s 24-year rule, Kenya’s was more reactive and ad hoc. As the global scene unfolded, Kenya sought to remain relevant and to leverage its position as an important regional player as had hitherto been at the height of the Cold War though not with similar weight.

Internally, Kenya had to come to terms with a rapidly changing and fluid political power dispensation. For President Moi, the 1990s were a tough lesson in how the Western-bloc would lurch from almost fanatical support to disdainful disregard of their erstwhile allies in search of a new world order.

Also caught in this scenario were Mobutu Sese Seko and Kamuzu Banda of Malawi. So was the Apartheid rulers in South Africa, who were more or less forced to rethink the impossible – a black majority rule under Nelson Mandela who was released in 1990 after 27 years in prison. Mandela became the first democratically elected black President of South Africa in April 1994.

For Moi, his currency as a regional kingpin was rapidly diminishing despite his efforts to remain relevant, at least in the eyes of the Western World. The US-led intervention in Somalia after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in l992—93 which ended in humiliation of a Super Power at the hands of a rag—tag militia was a temporary respite from which Kenya sought to acquire maximum leverage — but it was short-lived.

The Rwanda genocide and subsequent installation of a Tutsi-minority regime in 1994 Was another temporary respite, despite the huge international outcry and subsequent international support.

The ousting of Mobutu in the then Zaire in 1997 by a rebel faction led by Joseph Kabila was a telling point of how the global Western—diplomatic power play had changed.

The August 1998 terrorist bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam gave birth to terrorism, a new global phenomenon in Africa. These attacks introduced East Africa to global terror and its reach, and with it, the dangers associated with being perceived to too close to the West. For Moi and Kenya’s foreign policy, it was a sobering reminder that decisions on the international arena can have consequences.

His allies practically forced him to leave power by forcing constitutional changes to introduce term limits and then refused to support his succession plans.

Exciting Articles

Perhaps indicative of Moi’s at times rapidly changing foreign policy milieu, if not ethos, was the inordinately high turnover of principal foreign policy czars. In his 24 years at the helm he had no less than five foreign ministers. They included Dr Robert Ouko, Elijah Mwangale, Dr Zachary Onyonka, Mr. Kalonzo Musyoka and Dr Bonaya Godana.

Realistically, however, the most powerful practitioner of Kenya’s foreign policy outside President Moi was the all— powerful onetime Minister for Energy Nicholas Biwott.

There were also some civil servants and diplomats who also wielded immense power and clout on account of their relationship and proximity to Moi. These included people like Simeon Nyachae, who served as head of the public service, Kenya’s High Commissioner to Britain Bethwel Kiplagat and his successor Sally Kosgei.

But none of these individuals enjoyed more international recognition and respect like Dr Ouko, who commanded and articulated Kenya’s foreign policy agenda with acclaim, dignity and sharp intellect. Mr. Musyoka, a polished and equally articulate practitioner of foreign policy, also had an impact as an accomplished peacemaker and negotiator, particularly in Sudan and Somalia.

By the end of President Moi’s leadership in 2002, a repeat terrorist attack on the Paradise Hotel in the Coast region put Kenya’s reputation as a safe haven for Western tourists and investments under immense threat.

Shift to the growing Orient

With the end of Moi’s 24 years in power in December 2002, Kenya’s foreign policy entered a new dispensation.

There was urgent need for a review to reflect entirely new global players and or imperatives — in this case, the rapidly growing economic power houses of China, India, Brazil and South Korea.

The hitherto Western-bloc global hegemony was under increasing competition and it was only pragmatic in nearly all instances, for the post-Moi political leadership to explore new foreign policy opportunities and leverage(s).

By the end of the 20th Century, the cosy-albeit client-state relationship between Kenya and the Western-bloc was on display.

For President Moi, then busy seeking to craft a political-cum-economic succession master plan after 24 years at the helm, a peaceful internal transitional arrangement was critical.

This was more apparent if he could engineer a flawless internal political master—stroke to safe-guard his political legacy and, most importantly, guarantee a political future that would not dismantle his immediate wellbeing and safety nor open up the possibilities of retribution.

Without drawing too much attention to himself and his burning desire to expand his sphere of allies/ friends and benefactors, President Moi had gradually warmed up to newer friends and economic-cum-trade partners especially from the growing Orient, in particular, the rapidly growing China, India, South Korea and other middle income non-Western nations like Turkey, Brazil and even Iran as potential suitors. Others included an increasingly assertive rich Gulf, including the Far Eastern Sultan of Brunei. He had also engineered a remarkable thawing of relations with Kenya’s East African neighbours of Uganda and Tanzania in the first instance and roped in the Great Lakes countries of Rwanda and Burundi and had embarked on a charm offensive in Africa and specifically managed to assure suspicious Sudan and a restless Ethiopia.

Further afield, he had pain-stakingly managed to smooth over Kenya’s rather poor credentials with former African liberation leaders now in power in South Africa.

President Moi was seeking to leverage Kenya’s strategic geographical position including its prime location at the crossroads of the Eastern African region as a choice location to conduct business — be it economic, military—cum—security, trade and most conveniently, as a functional financial  and service hub, a logistical and communication node point. President Moi was seeking alternative sources of diplomatic gravitas and he deftly managed to play up all these positive attributes to his benefit and credit. President Moi did manage to buy some diplomatic breathing space and latitude, and in the process sought for his legacy a well-deserved respite from the Western-bloc public diplomatic pronouncements.

The tilt to the East

Never since the early years of Kenya’s Independence was Nairobi’s diplomatic circuit lively and full of public and private intricate diplomatic wooing and courtship drama and dance between the Western-bloc envoys and the Chinese diplomats,  officials, economic-cum-business leaders as was witnessed between 20 0342007.

The only difference this time round was that the Western diplomats were playing catch—up to their Chinese counterparts, investors, business leaders and even increasingly Chinese tourists. In a space of less than 10 years, the Chinese presence in every aspect and facet of Kenya’s social-political—economic and even academic lives was unmistakable. ,

These teams, especially from China and to a lesser extent, India, continue to engage in huge million dollar infrastructure, mining, service and technological contracts that at the height of the Western-bloc heyday would have been unthinkable.

For most Western-bloc diplomats, investors and Bretton Woods financial giants, this was a major reversal of fortunes.

President Kibaki went through the normal diplomatic rigmarole of Well—crafted official state visits to Washington and London soon after coming to power, but he also turned east and paid similar high—level official visits to Beijing, New Delhi, Tokyo and also visited Tripoli.

President Kibaki was expected Was not expected to pay such high profile visits so soon to what the Western-bloc believed were not traditional major economic-trading partners leave alone, traditional security— cum- military and diplomatic allies like China.

The Chinese, Indians and South Korean teams and delegations were on a shopping spree and President Kibaki was not making or giving any excuses. The Orient peril was the clarion cry by the Western—bloc diplomats, investors and financiers, while the Kibaki government appeared not alarmed by Western-bloc protestations.

The Chinese managed to get major infrastructure projects including road construction, huge mining and resource concessions including huge technological and service contracts that would have been the preserve of Western companies a little less than a decade ago. For President Kibaki and his team, these Western-bloc public and private protestations were not only insincere, but borne of a culture of entitlement that the Western contractors were used to in the past on account of Kenya’s being beholden to the Western countries.

If anything, for President Kibaki, The Western governments, contractors and even their advisors had become too complacent in their grip of major contracts in Kenya without any real competition, value for money and a changing global economic-cum—trade—technological and financial clout.

The Western-bloc counter was that Kenya needed to evaluate its position, and perhaps more tellingly, its strategic interests more closely to its long—term interests and benefits — that the Chinese and other Eastern and Orient suitors Were pursuing their interests without due regard to the welfare of Kenya.

That Kenya was strategically placed and poised was never lost to the Western and Eastern-cum-Orient suitors. Kenya bestrides a Geo-political and strategic region and Was Well positioned to play the role of a gateway to huge and rapidly growing market of over 150 million people of the larger Great lakes, Eastern and Horn of Africa Region.

Further, and most alluring was the fact that these regions were the new frontier for fossil hydro-carbon and other minerals with abundant potential and need for huge infrastructural, transport, public works, energy and service-cum-financial investment potential and outlay.

Kenya was the entry and exit point, the engine, human resource, financial and service industry hub, and the technological and possibly key driver and policeman in the region. Kenya provided the testing ground, the incubator, the laboratory and the talisman all rolled into one, and had the capacity, and at times the means, to rally the region together. Kenya is too important to be taken for granted.

For President Kibaki, Kenya had come of age and had the rare opportunity to leverage on its position. Kenya had the advantage, the means and the political will and foresight to demand and leverage on its assets and potential and the Western-bloc stood on notice.

Henceforth, President Kibaki was silently, but forcefully asserting that it would not be business as usual — those that sought to engage with Kenya must do so on its terms.

Kenya Foreign Ministers

In the half a century of Kenya’s foreign policy, there have been a number of personalities who left an indelible mark in charting an entirely new path by their actions, gravitas and sheer sense of presence if not intellectual hue.

Foreign ministers were usually political appointees without prior exposure, training and induction into the rough and tumble of international diplomacy. They were often appointed for their perceived political association and closeness to the president.

Mbiyu Koinange

At Independence and shortly afterwards, the key foreign policy guru was the Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister and later Office of the President, the late Mbiyu Koinange.

The US-educated minister was a close political ally and brother-in-law to President Jomo Kenyatta and a veteran pan—Africanist. He was a scion of a leading political family in Kiambu that was renowned for its political credentials and networks in pro-African liberation activities. Operating from the shadows, the late Koinange wielded immense powers in foreign policy formulation and conduct — at times second only to the President in the early years of the Kenyatta regime between 1963-67.

He was the all—powerful man at the side of the President whose imprints were omnipresent. It was believed that his role was decisive and critical within the entire government machinery and operations. His direct influence on the conduct and formulation of Kenya’s foreign policy, though understated, endured until the demise of President Kenyatta in 1978.

Dr Njoroge Mungai

The other powerful, flamboyant and suave foreign policy guru was Dr Njoroge Mungai. A Stanford University-educated medical doctor, Dr Mungai was also President Kenyatta’s private physician and nephew.

Young, articulate and worldly travelled at the time of his appointment, Dr Mungai was a natural choice as the young country’s top foreign policy exponent. He was well-connected to the President, well-educated and the right man at the height of the Cold War rivalry in Africa. This was a time when the, Soviet Union—led Eastern world was eager to secure its presence in Eastern Africa, and the Western world keen to safeguard its strong-hold in the key western region of the Indian Ocean rim, as part of its containment policy of Soviet-Chinese expansionism in Africa and other regions in the world.

For Dr Mungai, the foreign policy docket was a natural progression; he had the pedigree, the face and, most importantly, the ear of the President. He was also a counter-weight to Mbiyu Koinange in family connections, if not in age. He was in a manner, a royal prince of the Kenyatta regime.

Indeed, he used his connections to have his younger brother, Nyoike Mungai, appointed as Kenya’s High Commissioner to the Court of St. James, London and occupied the position until Kenyatta’s death in 1978. Dr Njoroge Mungai was subsequently appointed to the equally powerful Ministry of Defence in 1967, where he was instrumental in charting out Kenya’s decidedly pro-West defence posture until his political loss in the 1974 General Election when his political clout waned.

Dr Munyua Waiyaki

Kenya’s top foreign policy docket was held by another medical doctor, Munyua Waiyaki. A complete reversal of his predecessor’s flashy and flamboyant demeanour, Dr Waiyaki, a South Africa—educated man, exhibited a more liberal and pan-Africanist orientation, especially on decolonisation and African liberation.

Dr Waiyaki’s political pedigree was equally impressive, as a grandson of the legendary 19th century Kikuyu anti-colonial leader, Waiyaki WA Hinga. His training in apartheid South Africa in the late 1940s was critical in his later political life. Indeed, his larger family was very instrumental in the waging of the Mau Mau Anti-British campaign in Kenya in the 1950s. He was for Kenyans at the height of East—West rivalry the nearest to a pro-Africa and anti-white supremacist regimes opponent and voice that Kenya had lacked during Dr Mungai’s tenure as the Foreign Minister. Dr Waiyaki Was an uncompromising opponent of the White regimes in apartheid South Africa, Rhodesia and the Portuguese Africa colonial possessions of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.

Dr Waiyaki was articulate, forceful and ideologically sound – he did not suffer fools gladly and would defend his ministerial turf from all and sundry including fending off-encroachment.

In Dr Waiyaki’s tenure as Kenya’s Foreign Minister, the country’s international standing, at least in the larger East-West ideological supremacy battle was partially redeemed. Kenya’s pan-African credentials were reversed and somewhat banished and the hitherto overtly subservient pro-Western clamour was redressed.

It was during his tenure that Kenya’s voice in the non-aligned and Pan African venues and ventures was Well-received and articulated. Kenya embarked on a number of Well-received diplomatic ventures in regional peace-making and negotiations within the then warring liberation movements in Southern Africa.

It was also during his tenure that Kenya’s standing within the United Nations Was secured and also saw the country host major international conferences including the 1972 All-Africa Trade Show and the 1974 UNTAD Conference at the Kenyatta Conference Centre and Kenya’s selection as the host country of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters, the first ever UN agency head office in a developing country in 1973.

By 1975, Kenya’s pro—African liberation credentials had grown to such an extent that the warring Angolan liberation movements held a series of reconciliation and power-sharing negotiations under the chairmanship of President Kenyatta prior to the collapse of the Portuguese colonial administration in both Angola and Mozambique in late 1975 and early l976.

By the time President Daniel arap Moi succeeded Mzee Kenyatta in 1978 upon his death, Dr Waiyaki had managed to repair and redirect Kenya’s foreign policy.

It was during the same period that Kenya’s civil service mandarins, especially at the Foreign Ministry and other top foreign diplomatic postings, were cutting their teeth and making an impact in foreign policy formulation and conduct.

Dr Robert Ouko

Foremost among these were the then Minister for East African Community, the late Dr Robert Ouko who subsequently became one of Kenya’s most eloquent and key driver of foreign policy under President Moi.

Having joined the then nascent civil service at the advent of Kenya’s Independence in 1963, Dr Ouko, a political science graduate of the Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, rose through the ranks to become one of the most polished and brilliant Foreign ministers Kenya has ever had until his death in very controversial and mysterious circumstances in 1990 at the peak of his career.

Dr Ouko was a consummate negotiator that both President Kenyatta and Moi found attractive.

He lacked the internal ethnic cum—political base and eschewed local political ambitions, but was a composed diplomat with a persuasive personal charm.

In his more than 28 years at the helm of Kenya’s nascent and ever-evolving Civil Service and growing diplomatic corps, Dr Ouko had cut his teeth in the development of the East African Community, the growth and development of a functional foreign ministry and diplomatic service and had nurtured very deep and mutually re-enforcing ties with the makers and shakers of the Kenyan political and economic scene.

Dr Ouko was a perfect choice for a newly installed President Moi who was seeking to reassure old friends of Kenya, chart out a new footprint, and maintain some form of continuity while pursuing a different foreign policy posture and direction after President Kenyatta’s foreign policy in his 15 years at the helm. Save for a few interludes, Dr Ouko was the face, the voice and the chief functionary of President Moi’s foreign policy between 1978 until his mysterious and controversial death in 1990.

In his vantage position, Dr Ouko had the President’s ear and few within the President’s inner circle would dare challenge or question his loyalty. He was more than a political appointee or functionary, bigger than a local politician and certainly much more than an educated and polished diplomat. Dr Ouko was a partner, friend and all most a political soul-mate of President Moi, but very well aware of his position in the entire pecking political order.

In all, Dr Ouko discharged his duties with finesse, energy and commitment until he became a threat, real and or imagined to powerful individuals and personalities within the inner sanctums of President Moi’s power base towards the end of the Cold War, and the clamour for multi-party politics in Kenya between 1988-1990.

His mysterious death in 1990 ended his illustrious career, and still haunts political careers of many of President Moi’s senior politicians and officials.

Nicholas Biwott

Perhaps outside President Moi, the most powerful, albeit shadowy, power broker in his 24 years at the helm was a one-time personal assistant, former civil servant and Australian educated political power man, Mr. Nicholas Biwott. Like Kenyatta’s close ties and affinity to Mbiyu Koinange, President Moi’s relations and close ties to Mr. Biwott were legendary.

The latter, though a minister in many dockets throughout President Moi’s rule, was believed to be the power behind the scenes, quiet, disarming and self-effacing belied his steel-grip on the instruments of power and his omnipresence and influence. Indeed, to his foes and friends, he was the man to watch out for, if not the man to have on your side.

His source of power and influence was as mysterious as it was deadly. His grip on power was entrenched and his ear to President Moi was real, immediate and all encompassing. His reach and wealth were enormous. His input and influence in the formulation, conduct and exercise of foreign policy and clout were incontestable and direct. He was to many foreign countries, the real minister for Foreign Affairs of Kenya even though he was in different dockets.

For Dr Ouko and others before and after him, Mr. Biwott’s influence and conduct of foreign affairs was a given, though never publicly acknowledged. Perhaps, it was only Dr Ouko who, by dint of his strength of character, experience and networks, could dare contradict him.

Mwangale, Onyonka, Godana In between Dr Ouko’s mysterious death and after, President Moi had appointed other Foreign ministers. These included the late former vocal backbencher and India-educated Elijah Mwangale, formerly a senior educator and principal at the Egerton College. He was better known for his combative and voluble conduct of local and foreign political affairs, but lacked diplomatic tact and finesse.

He was followed by Dr Zachary Onyonka — a US—educated economics graduate. He too was given more to local political competition and grandstanding. He was more of a stop— gap political appointee in President Moi’s schemes to contain another local political king—pin and a one—time head of the civil service, Simeon Nyachae and his former political ally.

Others who occupied the foreign affairs docket were Dr Bonaya Godana briefly before his death barely over year in office.

Kalonzo Musyoka

Another high profile Foreign Minister and currently a leading local politician and President Kibaki’s Vice—President from 2008 to 2013 is Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka.

Musyoka, a lawyer by training, s one of the longest serving politicians in Kenya, and until March 2013, was one of the leading political heavyweights in Kenya, having been a Member of Parliament for close to 30 years, and having held numerous senior Cabinet positions.

Articulate, highly intelligent and suave, he had the makings of another Dr Ouko: Well connected, amiable and presentable. He brought a fresh breath to the conduct of foreign affairs and policy formulation and articulation. He, more than anyone else, post—Dr Ouko, gave the Foreign Affairs docket respect and insights. He had the presence and charisma to inspire confidence in Kenya’s foreign policy realm.

Perhaps it was the ease and poise that he brought to bear in his discharge of foreign policy that he elicited national and international recognition as a potential national leader despite his lack of financial and capacity to realise his dream. He is still highly regarded as a less polarising national figure, and a possible moderating politician who, if well—managed, could graduate to higher national office, which he did as the Vice-President for the last five years in the Wake of the disputed national elections of 2007.

Bethuel Kiplagat

Other key players Who left a mark on Kenya’s foreign policy – more behind the scenes as functional civil servants and diplomats — include the Sorbonne University-educated Bethwel Kiplagat, who served as Kenya’s ambassador to France and High Commissioner to Britain before becoming one of the most articulate and effective Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the mid—1980s.

Dr Sally Kosgei, a US—educated university don who served as a High Commissioner in Britain, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs and finally as Head of the Civil Service and, until recently, a Cabinet Minister in the Coalition Government of 2007—20l3.

Both Kiplagat and Dr Kosgei brought practical and academic experience in inter—state relations, coupled up with academic hue including practical foreign service exposure and induction for many years.

It is more to their credit that despite being ethnically related to the President they brought to bear heir wide experience and networks to the Foreign Ministry. Mr. Kiplagat in particular had vast networks and experience in peace and conflict resolution, being one of Kenya’s immense contribution to regional stability and cohesion in the South Sudan civil war, Somalia and the Great Lakes region.

Prior to these two who were more assertive, active and mandated during President Moi’s rule there were other individuals who by dint of their abilities, capacities and commitment made a mark in Kenya’s foreign policy formulation and conduct.

Leo Odera-Jowi

He was Kenya’s representative to the United Nations. In the early 1970s, he was particularly instrumental in campaigning and lobbying for Kenya to host UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi.

Others include Kenya’s Ambassador to Washington, the late John Mbugua who later became the Clerk to Nairobi City Council and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government; the late Burudi Nabwera, who was Kenya’s ambassador to UN in the early 1960s who later become a powerful Cabinet Minister.

Under President Kibaki, the most successful Foreign Minister was the newly appointed Director—General of UNTACD and the first Kenyan to head a United Nations Organisation, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, who served both as Foreign Minister and later as a Minister of Trade

Lt-General Daniel Opande

But perhaps one of the most accomplished diplomat that Kenya has ever had without necessarily appreciating nor publicly acknowledging his role is Lt—General (retired) Daniel Opande, who was the first Kenya Deputy United Nations Peace-Keeping Force Commander with the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group in Namibia (UNTAG) in 1989-1990.

His dual performance as the Commander of Kenyan Peace—Keeping Force and Deputy to UN Peace-Keeping Force in Namibia, saw him appointed as the Commander of the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force in Liberia in the mid-1990s, a rare accolade and recognition of his diplomatic skills and abilities as a soldier.



Kenya’s international policy has avoided extreme positions either to the right or left, East or West,North or South. Emphasis has been on pragmatism, non-alignment, peaceful co existence and cooperation with other nations, regardless of their political and economic inclinations, and the avoidance of military or open confrontation.

The conduct of foreign policy in Kenya is the prerogative of the head of State, the President.

Kenya and Regional Integration

International and regional cooperation form a major component of foreign policy. Kenya participates in regional initiatives – she is a member of East African Comniunity, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa COMESA, ACP-EU, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, among others.This is out of the realisation that the development of Kenya is tied to her neighbours in the region.

New frontiers

Foreign policy evolves according to emerging frontiers. The emergence of China and India as economic giants has presented new opportunities. Dealing with economic powerhouses such as China, India, South Korea and Malaysia is set to be one of the new issues in Kenya’s foreign policy.

The forces of globalisation have altered the environment and conduct of international relations. Globalisation has cut unit costs and expanded markets. New anchors for Kenya’s external relations will have to be identified to deal with the security threats generated by transnational criminal activities like money laundering, human and drug trafficking and international terrorism.

Terrorism is another key issues.Terrorists have attacked Kenya at least twice — August 7, l998 and November 28, 2002. As international terrorism evolves into one of the biggest threats to global security,foreign policy has to devise new approaches for harnessing global cooperation to deal with it.

The collapse ofthe racist regimes in southern Africa towards the end ofthe 20th Century, particularly the demise of apartheid South Africa, signaled the end of the anti—colonial struggle as a major agenda for African countries. As a result, the African Union (AU) was formed in 2002 to replace the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), whose main agenda had been the struggle against colonialism in Africa.

Other initiatives following the transition include the creation of new continental peace and security mechanisms and the formation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) aimed at stabilising Africa’s socio-economic development.

Kenya’s foreign policy will have to adjust to the emergence of regional economic blocs as critical tools for economic development and political integration. While playing a leading role in the revival of the East African Community (EAC), which initially collapsed in 1977, Kenya was also a key player in the formation of two other regional groups – IGAD and COMESA in the 1980s.Through such regional initiatives, Kenya has found critical entry points for environmental, peace and economic diplomacy, which have helped shape its foreign policy.

UN agencies in Kenya

Alongside regional obligations, Kenya is the only country outside Europe and North America that hosts the headquarters of UN agencies. As home to HABITAT and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Kenya is a vibrant member of the comnmnity of nations. Accordingly, foreign policy and international relations are tailored to fit local realities and expectations.