Kenya needs grand plan to stay ahead of others

Once, Kenya was the unquestioned regional power house, but that position faces multiple threats. The reality of this threat means that Kenya needs a "grand strategy" to reclaim, and to go beyond its eroding position of pre-eminence. The essence of "grand strategy" is big vision to achieve and sustain long-term objectives by overcoming potential obstacles and threats to national interests. 

Often, calls for “grand strategy” undertaking follow serious disappointment or threats to perceived interests of specified geopolitical units. Threats can be of war/military nature but they can also be geopolitical, economic, and socio-cultural. War allows leaders to display statecraft dexterity in pulling countries through difficult situations or successfully mounting empire building. Leaders win or lose depending on focus, farsightedness, the right temperament, and having ability to balance aspirations and capabilities while tackling the unexpected. Great leaders figure out how to enhance capabilities rather than let available capabilities limit their aspirations.

Kenya needs a “grand strategy” because its interests are threatened by creeping structural, cultural, and political challenges. As high policy makers with little sense of statecraft expose themselves and the country to ridicule, they become liabilities to national security. For instance, legislators disgrace Parliament, denigrate the country, and become threats to national security by reportedly taking bribes to mis-legislate or reject investigative reports.

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Using proxies

Their conduct condemns Kenya’s education system, which seemingly ignores such thinking and value adding disciplines as history, by implying that they missed lessons in ethics and were thus miseducated. National self-confidence erosion is reason for Kenya to recast the educational system; to stress statecraft, history, and values.

Internal weaknesses attract external threats and make the country increasingly vulnerable to, and dependent on, other countries. These, whether neighbours or extra-continental, display intent to eclipse Kenya’s regional pre-eminence, initially in subtle ways and then openly. While neighbours appear to avoid Kenya, extra-continental powers would like to clip, if not control, Kenya’s influence; often using proxies. Nicknamed “development partners”, they like giving “advise” on how Kenyans should behave “or else”.

In themselves, external trends to eclipse Kenya are reason for “grand strategy” that would recast the Kenyan self and probably redefine the concept of neighbourhood to go beyond territories. This makes dealing with the intentions of immediate neighbours of immediate necessity. For instance, East African Community, EAC, members show dubious commitment to the community, fail to pay dues, and allow ideological self-drive to show disdain for Kenya.

Trade balance

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Despite the EAC headquarters being in Arusha, Tanzania seemingly prefers being in SADC, and is reluctant to pay dues. Burundi partakes the benefits at Arusha but does not pay dues. South Sudan cannot pay, and Uganda pays sporadically. Trade balance between Kenya and Uganda seems to be shifting in Kampala’s favour. Rwanda has struck port deals with Djibouti going through Ethiopia. 

Outside the EAC, Somalia and Ethiopia are of interest. Somalia’s ability to penetrate Kenya indirectly grows in proportion to its seeming internal weakness. Ethiopia, however, is the most active country in the Kenya eclipsing project.

Ethiopia appears to be resurgent. It aspires to capture the region by supplying low cost energy derived from the Renaissance Dam and through extensive infrastructure developments. It opened high speed train link to Djibouti, where the Chinese built a base, and gained Red Sea access by giving border concession to Eritrea. Making Ethiopia the gateway to landlocked South Sudan, Uganda, and may be Central Africa, potentially undermines Kenya’s Lapsset commercial-security corridor. 

Faced with such realities, Kenya needs “grand strategy” not so much to counter what others have in mind, but to go beyond them. It calls for national attitudinal shift that eradicates corruption and shuns ignorance and incompetence. Catering for enhanced defence capability in statecraft, water, land, air, cyber, and training/educational is just one instrumental aspect. The stress is on big aspirations and vision matched with ability to anticipate and prepare for unknowns. Restructuring educational attitude, from baby schools to universities/colleges, would be respectable beginning for grand strategy.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU. [email protected]

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