Kenya taking its place in region as force for good

The first thing a visitor to Istanbul notices is the noise, energy and action.

A more discerning visitor is also struck by its geography. For Istanbul is quite literally the meeting point of two continents, Europe and Asia.

In fact, a day in the Turkish capital will regularly involve engagements in both Europe and Asia.

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This unique position gives Turkey a number of geostrategic advantages, and it was this advantageous position that enabled the Ottoman Empire, a precursor to modern day Turkey, at its peak, to rule over much of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Turkey’s example

But this also brought with it problems. The Ottoman Empire eventually collapsed, over extended and attacked from all sides.

Its successor, the modern state of Turkey, has struggled with its position, finding itself in conflict with the bulk of its neighbours at one time or another, lurching from one adversary to the next.

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Reflecting on this challenge, Ahmet Davuto?lu, an academic and later the Foreign Minister, devised a new foreign policy doctrine, known as the “Zero Problems Policy”.

This approach rejected the notion that Turkey should turn its back on the Arab World in favour of the West, explaining that it was in fact possible to maintain friendly relations with all of Turkey’s neighbours.

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For this, Davuto?lu was recognised by the prestigious Foreign Policy Magazine, who in 2011 included him in its “Top 100 Global Thinkers” for “imagining a new role for Turkey in the world – and making it happen.”

Zero problems?

Analysing Kenyan foreign policy in recent years, one is struck by the similarity between our approach and that of Davuto?lu.

For what better way is there to categorise what we see now than see it zero problems for maximum benefit, leveraging Kenya’s strategic position as a regional financial, communication and transportation hub, and the largest economy in East Africa, for the benefit of our people.

On a regional level, President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) has overseen a tightening of relations with Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan and the rest of our neighbours in the EAC.

Since when he took office in 2013, Mr Kenyatta has sought to reset Kenya’s position in the region.

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Kenya’s economy (worth $63.40 billion in 2015) is the biggest in the East African region. Its liberal market economics, huge infrastructure outlay, and a well-educated human resource and robust technology is a magnet for investment.

Mr Kenyatta has recast the image of Kenya from an inward-looking, timid country to one ready to welcome the world and do business with it.

One example of this is the SGR, a wise investment that will strengthen Kenya’s strategic position.

The SGR will ensure that landlocked Uganda and Rwanda become even greater customers of Mombasa Port, with a subsequent boost for Kenyan revenue and job creation.

Fixing Somalia

Our role in stabilising Somalia has been commendable.

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The latest effort has seen Kenya step up efforts to reinforce the Somali government.

We have since seen a rapid improvement of bilateral ties, with the Somali government publically crediting Kenya with helping to transform Somalia and most importantly helping neutralise the threat from Al-Shabaab militants.

Yet Kenya’s zero problems policy has been most evident when it comes to our relations with the world’s top economies.

As with Turkey, for years it was believed that Kenya had to choose between East and West. In the Cold War, it was the US or the USSR, today it is the US or China, but the idea that Kenya can only be close to one of them has remained the same.

By rejecting this ideology, Kenya has exposed it for the false dichotomy it is.

Surely, the Kenyan people benefit from close relations with ALL the world’s top economies.

There are those who have chosen to criticise President Kenyatta’s cosy relationship with China including last month’s trip to China for the Belt and Road Initiative forum.

These critics go on to argue that Mr Kenyatta’s outreach to China comes at the expense of our traditional allies in the West.

Yet what they choose to ignore is that these relationships have never been better. In case anyone forgets, President Kenyatta was only the second African leader to be invited to the White House to meet US President Donald Trump.

And in the past year, Uhuru has hosted historic visits from Theresa May (the first British PM to visit Kenya since Margaret Thatcher) and President Macron (the first ever French President to visit).

It hardly sounds like we have turned our back on the West.

All this will likely not be enough to silence the “Sinophobes”. But the facts of the matter are clear.

Mr Temba is a communication consultant.

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President Uhuru KenyattaEast AfricaSGR