Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Uhuru's new Foreign Policy Approach: Pragmatic or Precarious?

In one of his analysis of Kenya's new foreign policy approach under President Uhuru Kenyatta, Peter Kagwanja remarked that Kenya’s foreign policy is emerging and is reflecting an assertive new Africa-centred approach as the central plank of Nairobi’s regional and global policy. He was writing this in the regional paper, the East Africa soon after President Kenyatta took oath of office on April 9, 2013. Kenya has historically been the 'hub' of the region, as evidenced by the international presence such as the UN offices in Nairobi. 

When Kenya gained political independence in 1963, it took a pure capitalist approach based on the Western model. Her relations with the West were thus strengthened by this. Kenya became the darling of the West and a close ally unlike her East African neighbors, Tanzania and Uganda. Tanzania had taken up the socialist model, Ujamaa, which President Nyerere described as 'Tanzania's unique model of socialism.' Uganda under Milton Obote also pursed a similar path. It was no wonder that Tanzania strengthened her relations with the likes of China, USSR, and Cuba, who were all communist states. Under President Daniel Moi, Kenya's foreign policy was quite pragmatic due to the Cold War at the time. However, Kenya maintained close relations with the West particularly US and Britain. However, since 2002 as my colleague puts it "the Kibaki administration had been keen on expand the pool of international partners. China was one such available partner". This has seen Kenya adapt an Economic Diplomacy Foreign Policy Agenda which focuses largely on trade, bilateral and multilateral business partnerships. 

Uhuru Kenyatta, during his campaigns said he would "look East" upon his ascension to president. Foreign policy commentators and media saw his move was instigated by his indictment at the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes committed during Kenya's Post-poll Violence of 2007/2008. Coupled with the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson remark that 'choices have consequences' warning Kenyans against electing an indictee president, Kenyatta administration was without doubt going to pursue a "look East" approach. 

US President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, has skipped Kenya from his latest African tour. He visits Tanzania instead, to the dismay of many Kenyans, who view it as a snob. Obama through the foreign department has explained that he visits Tanzania for economic reasons and most recently the White House explained that the ICC cases facing Kenya’s top leaders are the reason why US President Barrack Obama is skipping Kenya during his Africa tour which kicks off Wednesday next week. Outspoken critic of Uhuru Kenyatta, Makau Mutua reiterated this in his column on Sunday Nation stating that Mr Obama is simply giving Mr Carson’s truism a nod.

President Kenyatta will embark on a tour to Japan, Russia and China in a move seen by many as a counter-check to the Obama snob and reiterating his "look East" approach. Kenyatta has proven to be quite an astute politician who tries to balance Kenya's relations without necessarily being seen as an 'anti-West' leader. He has to trade like this since he still has a pending a case at the ICC.    

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