Ruto's global gamble; Will master dealmaker make a difference?

President William Ruto addressing the United Nation General Assembly in New York, USA. [PCS]

Though President William Ruto was initially seen as a diplomatic novice and someone who was on a mission to outshine his predecessor, President Uhuru Kenyatta, on the international scene, his diplomatic playbook so far has echoes of the same unyielding tactics that helped him win the Kenyan presidency in 2022.  

A consummate dealmaker, Ruto is rapidly shaping up to be a man with as many international allies as he does friends in domestic politics. This fact has already thrown up its fair share of challenges. Shortly after his inauguration, President Ruto’s official Twitter account sparked confusion regarding Kenya’s stance on the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), necessitating the prompt deletion of the tweet. Moreover, citing concerns of a conflict of interest, Sudan has rebuffed Ruto’s mediation efforts to resolve its protracted civil conflict.  

The diplomatic intrigues seemingly extend beyond the African continent. Whispers in diplomatic circles hint at Nairobi’s inclination toward recognizing Kosovo as an independent nation. Reports suggest that Ruto permitted Kosovar officials to utilize Kenya’s UN mission offices in New York for advocacy during the recent UN General Assembly, intensifying speculation on this matter. 

Despite these challenges, Nairobi has shown great tact in utilizing Ruto’s gifts as a politician at ease charming U.S. President Joe Biden as he is Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s President  Ebrahim Raisi. After visiting more than 25 countries during his inaugural year in office, Ruto’s diplomatic style is quickly taking shape.  


President Ruto’s upcoming attendance at the third Belt and Road Initiative tenth-anniversary summit in Beijing will be watched keenly and so will his anticipated meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the forum’s sidelines. The conference, scheduled for October 16, holds significant diplomatic weight and marks a fresh addition to the president’s “diplomacy à la carte” global tour. Speaking on Friday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, in characteristic fashion, revealed that Ruto will be seeking $1 billion (Sh150 billion) from the encounter:  

“He will go to China because most of our road projects have stalled because of the mounting Chinese debt,” said Gachagua. 

 “We are unable to pay our contractors yet some of the roads are incomplete. The President will be seeking a deal to restructure our Chinese debt and get favourable terms,” he explained.  

President William Ruto has adeptly tried to leverage such foreign visits to boost the country’s economic prospects, and international image, earning him praise from US Ambassador Meg Whitman, among others. Ruto’s travels have taken him from Uganda to Congo, Brazzaville in the heart of Africa to Silicon Valley in the United States, covering continents and nations that hold immense economic importance to Kenya. 

In those visits, Kenya has signed dozens of memorandums of understanding (MoU) documents with other countries and institutions. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) is a formal document that outlines an agreement between two states. Whether or not an MoU is legally binding depends on the intent of the signatories and the language used within the agreement. While MoUs typically indicate a willingness to proceed with an agreement, they may or may not have legally binding implications. 

MoUs often serve as the initial step in negotiations, according to a foreign affairs ministry insider, setting out the scope and purpose of discussions. However, the effectiveness and binding nature of an MoU ultimately depend on the follow-up actions and implementation efforts undertaken by the involved parties, particularly by the respective state or entity. 

Ambassador Boaz Mbaya, former Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs during President Kibaki’s administration, emphasizes that a nation carries a responsibility to honor the agreements it enters into, as these accords are a result of mutually agreed upon terms and commitments. 

In July, President Ruto embarked on a historic diplomatic mission to Congo, Brazzaville. This visit resulted in the signing of the mother of all agreements since he took the reins of power in September 2022. 18 MoUs were signed, underscoring the significance of the diplomatic breakthrough. State House spokesperson, Hussein Mohamed, in July, said the agreements aimed at unlocking the substantial trade potential between the two countries. 

During this visit, President Ruto was accompanied by a delegation of 50 Kenyan businessmen. The Kenyan ambassador to Kinshasa, George Masafu, who also holds accreditation for Congo, Brazzaville, highlighted that Kenya was the sole East African nation taking significant steps into the Central African market. Nairobi’s objective is to broaden its presence in the former French colonies of Central Africa, thereby extending its economic and political influence in the region. 

The devil’s in the detail 

A career diplomat, who requested anonymity, affirmed to The Sunday Standard that every trip undertaken by President Ruto was carefully strategized to generate income streams in Kenya. These income streams include various aspects, from political influence, potential trade opportunities, commercial value, and investment prospects. During his Silicon Valley visit, President Ruto secured substantial commitments from tech giants, promising to invest in Kenya’s burgeoning tech sector.  

This week, President Ruto informed Kenyans that during his recent visit to the U.S., he garnered insights that three prominent American corporations – Google, Intel, and Apple – were actively seeking to recruit a substantial workforce, numbering between 100,000 to 300,000 individuals, exclusively from Kenya. 

Detractors argue that President Ruto’s assertion, proclaiming that Intel, Google (Alphabet), and Apple would collectively hire such a big workforce from Kenya, appears unrealistic. They argue that as of the end of 2022, these tech giants had a combined global workforce of 486,134 full-time employees. While this number is undeniably significant, it falls considerably short of President Ruto’s proposed figures for Kenyan employment within these companies. This has raised doubts about the practicality and feasibility of achieving such a goal. 

In an interview with The Sunday Standard, Nanjira Sambuli, a tech policy researcher and analyst, emphasized the need for a thorough examination of the President’s statements. She said it would be a good idea for the President to be put to task to unpack his assertions:  

“It’s really simple, the President should be tasked with explaining what jobs these are in the hundreds of thousands that are in line for Kenyans,” she said.  

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a highly placed insider in Kenya’s tech scene said the government was “developing a worrying track record for making declarations that aren’t fact-checked nor clarified with a lot of what they’re doing on the tech front. They don’t even provide comprehensive position papers to explain things.” 

Visa-free access  

President Ruto has made it a priority to enhance economic relations within Africa as is evident through his diplomatic visits to countries such as South Africa, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. These visits underscore the strategic significance of these nations to Kenya, with bilateral trade agreements serving as a means to facilitate the exchange of goods and services, ultimately bolstering Kenya’s export potential. 

One noteworthy visit was to Addis Ababa in October last year, marking the President’s inaugural regional tour. During this visit, President Ruto and his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed, attended the national launch of Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia (STE). Ethiopia, the oldest country in Africa with a population exceeding 112 million, presented a vast market that Kenya tapped into when Safaricom was granted a license to operate M-PESA. 

Additionally, President Ruto addressed the issue of South Africa’s stringent visa policy towards Kenyan nationals during the visit of South Africa’s President to Kenya in November of the same year. A mutually beneficial agreement was reached to ease these visa restrictions. Previously, Pretoria had remained noncommittal regarding visa requirement reviews, making it a challenging task for Kenyans to secure visas. President Ruto’s efforts built upon the groundwork laid by his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, since 2016, culminating in positive discussions. 

Kenyan nationals now enjoy exemption from visa fees for stays in South Africa lasting less than 30 days, a significant achievement for Ruto’s diplomatic endeavors. Despite President Ruto’s notable diplomatic achievements in Africa, there are murmurs of concern that President Ruto speaks with a forked tongue when it comes to Pan-African issues. These concerns have been amplified by Kenya’s central role in the forthcoming intervention in Haiti. 

Kenya’s big gamble in Haiti  

The UN Security Council earlier this week authorized the deployment of an armed international police force that will be headed by Kenya in coordination with the Haitian National Police. Kenya has pledged to send 1,000 police officers to form part of the Multinational Security Support Mission that will tackle the brutal gangs that have overrun the country since the 2021 still-unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse that made headlines around the world.  

According to a new UN report, the gangs are responsible for at least 2,728 intentional killings recorded in Haiti between October 2022 and June 2023 as well as escalating cases of kidnappings and rape. Amid the unfolding crisis in the third largest country in the Caribbean, the UN-backed police force’s mission is to stop Haiti’s descent into a living hell and assist Haitian authorities in guarding critical infrastructure like airports, ports, schools, hospitals, and key traffic intersections.  

“I welcome the resolution as an overdue and critical instrument to define the multinational mission,” said President Ruto in a taped speech shared with the media on Tuesday. 

“The mission is a fundamental intervention to provide the necessary conditions for Haiti to consolidate its development and governance,” he added.  

Ruto made his remarks amid a growing chorus of voices urging Kenya to reconsider the move. Thirdway Alliance party leader Ekuru Aukot called the decision “a big mistake.” 

“Our policemen are used to chasing after guys carrying stones and tear gas canisters. They can’t face those guys,” he said. He added the President would do better to concentrate on problems closer to home:  

“Our brothers and sisters in Sondu are being killed. Yet our President, for whatever the wisdom is, wants to deploy 1,000 police officers to Haiti,” said Aukot.  

Khalid Hussein, Executive Director of HAKI Africa, meanwhile urged the Executive not to bypass parliament:  

“The government of Kenya must make this legal according to our own rules. In the next few days, we expect that they will apply the constitution and seek the approval of parliament and follow the laws of the land” he said.  

“Kenya is a sovereign country, we don’t get dictates from the UN that are then applied directly. Even if there’s a resolution that has been passed by the Security Council, we must follow our laws,” he added.  

Speaking from Nairobi, Gael Castro, a Haitian human rights activist said Haiti is better placed to solve its own crisis:  

“The Hatian problem requires a Hatian solution. Kenya and the international community should support the Haitian people to find lasting solutions to their problems,” she said.  

Other than Kenya, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda have also pledged to deploy personnel to Haiti. The US has pledged $100 million to support the multinational force. Speaking at the 78th edition of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, U.S. President Joe Biden personally thanked President Ruto for volunteering officers to lead the mission.  

According to the White House, Biden and Ruto had a telephone conversation to discuss the Haiti deployment on Tuesday night.  

“President Joe Biden spoke today with Kenya’s leader William Ruto to thank him for responding to Haiti’s call to serve as the lead nation for the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission,” said a readout of the conversation. 

Dr Njoki Wamai, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations at USIU, has called upon President Ruto to reconsider the current approach to the Haiti intervention: 

“The intervention in Haiti is not well thought out because Kenya is acting against the same Pan-African ideals Ruto has been championing. As a black nation, we of course owe a duty of care to Haiti but any intervention should be based on Pan-African principles and carried out through an African Union (AU) peace-keeping force,” she said. 

She also urged the President to leverage Kenya’s proven strengths on the global stage:  

“I would argue that Kenya has the legitimacy to offer global leadership on climate change, and big-tech investment given its leadership in the green energy sector and fintech technology from the success of M-Pesa and others,” she advised.  

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a well-placed insider said Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi’s recent reassignment to handle Kenya’s Foreign Affairs docket was partly done to ensure some “adult supervision for a ministry that holds the keys to the President’s international agenda.”