President Uhuru Kenyatta now a key regional point man

 President Uhuru Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret during their tour of China last year. [PHOTO: FILE/

By Stephen Makabila

 Kenya: Experts in foreign relations opine President Uhuru Kenyatta has performed better on the international platform than on the domestic front since assuming office a year ago.

They feel that rallying the entire African continent behind Kenya over the ICC cases facing him and his Deputy William Ruto, his position as the chair of both the East African Community (EAC) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and his whirl-wind tours of China and Asia and lately the European Union–African Summit in Brussels, paints the President as a leader riding high on the global diplomatic platform.

President Kenyatta, currently on a two-week foreign tour of Europe and Africa, is also likely to attend the United States-Africa Summit in August. Kenyatta is reported to be among leaders said to have been invited to the first US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, according to a recent White-House report.

  “No African leader has ever rallied the entire continent behind him the way Uhuru did on the ICC issue. His dealing with both the East and the West shows he is not leaning towards anywhere, but only upholding Kenya’s international interests. He has simply performed well on the international front than the domestic front,” says Munene Macharia of the United States International University (USIU)-Kenya.

Macharia, a professor of History and International Relations, points out that despite the ICC question facing Kenyatta, his position as chair of both IGAD and EAC makes him a regional pointman whom the West and the East cannot ignore.

Strategic position

“We have seen the US and Britain change their hearts over time. This is demonstrated by the US inviting him for the Summit of African leaders and the latest attendance of the EU-African summit by the President in Brussels,” he says.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, the Chief Executive Officer of the African Policy Institute (API), concurs with Macharia, saying  Western countries have realised they cannot ignore Kenya’s strategic position in the Horn of Africa.

Kagwanja says Kenyatta realised early that the West could be a problem to him over the ICC case and decided to play hardball, the climax being his last October speech at the AU, and that the trick has worked for him.

“Kenyatta is not only the EAC and IGAD chair but the convernor of the Somalia and South-Sudan peace initiatives. From playing the Pan-Africanism card by identifying the AU as the action point by using Kenya’s foreign policy as an African policy, to initiating the coalition of the willing with EAC, he has performed well,” he says.

Kagwanja notes that from last May when he met his first international visit to the United Kingdom (UK) for the Somalia conference, Kenyatta has visited Russia, China, India, South-Africa, Dubai, Qatar, Botswana, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania before his latest visit to Brussels and UK again, making his foreign tours within his first year in office higher than ever made by a Kenyan leader.

Political Scientist Dr Joseph Magut, says the West has found it hard to isolate Kenya because of its central place as the regional hub in trade and diplomatically.

Strained relations

“Kenyatta has been able to overcome the ICC burden in dealing with foreign countries, he has focused on intra-African policy which has worked out for him. Being the chair of over 200 million people under EAC, no world power may be willing to overlook him,” added Magut.

While in Brussels, Kenyatta welcomed continued collaboration between Africa and the EU in achieving the continent’s development goals.

 “Together we can realise the vision of developing Africa’s regional and continental infrastructure and promote socio–economic development and poverty reduction across the continent,” the President said.

Kenyatta further called on African leaders to accelerate reforms that will encourage more private sector investment in infrastructure projects.

The President gave an example of Kenya, where through enactment of Public Private Partnership (PPP) legislation, the private sector is active in the development of projects in transport, energy, water and ICT.

When he took over power, the ICC issue had strained relations with West, and he had initially limited his foreign visits to African countries, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Kenya, through the AU, launched an aggressive international push for a review of the Rome Statute to immunise sitting African presidents against prosecution, a position opposed by both the US and UK.

The President skipped the UN General Assembly last year, and also ensured that Kenya was not represented at the meeting for the first time since the country’s independence.

Foreign Affairs officials had then told The Standard on Sunday that the President recalled the Kenya ambassador to the UN Kamau Macharia during the UN meeting.

However, all that seems to be changing and Kenyatta has even been invited for the US-African Summit in August.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the underlying principles of Kenya’s foreign policy have been a strong advocacy for a rule-based international system, environmentally sustainable and equitable development and a secure world.

Crucial interests

The Ministry says that with the advent of rapid globalisation and increased competition among states for export markets and investments, a reorientation of Kenya’s foreign policy has become necessary and as a result, Kenya has sought to strengthen traditional ties with Europe, Japan and the US while deepening cooperation with emerging economies in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.

And even as some feel Kenyatta was performing well on the international front, there are those who question why it has taken long to appoint the country’s ambassadors in foreign capitals.

Prof Macharia notes that Kenyatta may be taking time to make the appointments because he is careful on who to appoint and to where given those appointed have to represent crucial national interests.