Poor leadership denied Kenya chance to front East Africa integration

President Uhuru Kenyatta is received by Deputy President William Ruto and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru for the official opening of the Sixth Devolution Conference at Kirinyaga University grounds, March 5, 2019. [Photo: Mose Sammy, Standard]

If there was ever a defining moment for Kenya to seize the opportunity and reap maximum benefits from East Africa integration, it was the post-Kibaki era when the Uhuru Kenyatta administration took charge.

Equality and mutual respect are fallacies, while diplomacy and intergovernmental relations are driven by economic and military might. Countries that are strong militarily and economically always flex muscle to acquire more influence in their neighborhood and beyond.

Every country dreads the day the United States of America will impose sanctions on them. It is well known that despite having immense oil reserves, Venezuela, under Nicholas Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him, is an economic basket case, thanks to US sanctions.

The same can be said of Zimbabwe, Libya, North Korea and Iran. It is also not lost on the world how the US flexes its muscle within the UN Security Council, NATO, and other international institutions. The same can be said of China and its neighbors; South Africa verses its SADC sidekicks, and Nigeria verses its ECOWAS colleagues.

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Within the East African region, Kenya has been the big brother for member states of the East African Community, as well as other countries within the region. Ethiopia has always held Kenya with reverence, as Kenya supported the struggle against the murderous regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. South Sudan and Somalia were born and weaned in Kenya as modern states with functional governments.

Venomous communiques

Yoweri Museveni roamed in Kenya freely as he put together his National Resistance Movement against Iddi Amin, Apollo Milton Obote, Yusuf Lule and Tito Okello. Kenya has every reason to be entitled as it has shaped the order and the body-construct of modern East Africa, and further afield in the great lakes region.

It therefore astounds both reason and mischief why Kenya, especially under Uhuru Kenyatta, has failed to take its rightful place at the center of the goings-on in the region.

Mwai Kibaki left a vibrant East African Community, and even when Tanzania seduced Burundi to isolate themselves from the rest, it was Kenya that diffused tensions and brought back the two errant states. Today, the East Africa Community is a shell. It started with the big ego of Tanzania fueled by the personality cult of John Pombe Magufuli. Before long, in came the exchange of venomous communiques between Rwanda and Burundi. This dispute has not been resolved, and relations between the two are still hostile.

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The most recent is the public spat between Uganda and Rwanda that has the potential to graduate into military action. As we speak, South Sudan is a failed state and virtually incapable of operating as a modern state. All these things have happened in the last five years, and it does not take any intellect to notice that Kenya will be the ultimate loser.

Active role

It is no secret that Kenya has been the gateway to East Africa. Even a buffoon like General Iddi Amin realised this, and never dared Kenya to war. It follows, therefore, that Kenya should have played an active role in ensuring a stable East Africa.

Many analysts grapple with the significance of Uhuru Kenyatta’s Marco Polo style, if it amounts to no economic impact. He relishes foreign travel accompanied by political consorts and joyriders, but what these travels have managed to bring to Kenyans is a public debt/GDP ratio of 60 per cent.

The leadership in Kenya has failed to capture the moment and shape the region’s affairs, as is expected of a regional power. Kenya should have seized the moment and positioned itself with bigger and better concessions for trade.

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Instead, Kenya, under Uhuru, has lost the grip of the region to a point where a functionally impotent government of Somalia has had the guts to claim some of Kenya’s territory.

Either the Somalia government discounts the fact that Kenya’s military is at the heart of Mogadishu or they have noticed that Kenya’s Commander in Chief is a lame duck, or why would Somalia make such an audacious move?

If history has taught us anything, it is summarised by Winston Churchill’s affirmation that history is written by the victors. The Mercantilist government of the United States of America, led by Woodrow Wilson, joined World War 1, then dictated the end of the war with the birth of the League of Nations, and a world order favourable to the United States’ economic interests.

The complacence of our top leadership cost us the Uganda pipeline that went to Tanzania. Likewise, the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport project is at risk of being rendered useless by the Horn of Africa Pipeline Project, a joint venture between Djibouti and Ethiopia. The wisdom of old reminds us that for want of a nail, a kingdom is lost.

Mr Karugu is a strategy and analytics consultant based in Nairobi. [email protected]

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Uhuru KenyattaEast African CommunityLeadershipEconomy