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Kenya is losing her diplomatic grip in the East Africa region and should act fast

By Israel Finney Awuor | May 28th 2020 at 13:02:06 GMT +0300

From left: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda during the 20th Ordinary Summit of the East Africa Community Heads of State held in Arusha, Tanzania. [PSCU]

It is now conventional wisdom that Kenya bestrides the East African region like a colossus. It dominates business, technology, commerce and communications, its economy is the most successful in the region, and its diplomatic tact and influence is second to none.

For quite long, Kenya has been basking in the glory and pleasures that come with being a hegemon within the East African region. Acting as a critical entrance route to the East African region - and enjoying relative peace in the region as compared to her neighbours ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­- Kenya has attracted bilateral and multilateral trade and investments, thereby boosting her outlook as an affluent diplomatic and economic powerhouse. However, this may change if the country does not rethink its diplomatic priorities.

The country now finds itself in a train wreck with some of her neighbours, a make or break situation that could shift her diplomatic influence in the entire horn of Africa region for good. Coming at a time when there is a quest for hegemonic supremacy between Kenya and Ethiopia, the country appears to be making more foes than friends within the region, a phenomenon that could have dire repercussions on the country’s regional influence.

Amidst the fight against coronavirus, Tanzania announced a ban on Kenya truck drivers entering their country. The decision was informed by the allegation by Tanzanian authorities that Kenyans are contributing to the rise in their coronavirus cases, thereby hampering their fight against the virus. As justifiable as the argument is, one clear issue is the fact that there have been continuous personality and ideological differences between political leaders of both countries. Coronavirus was used as a trojan horse by the Tanzanian authorities to conceal the ill feelings the country has always harbored for Kenya ever since. Tanzania has always adopted models of intransigentism and nationalism, thereby weakening regional integration in the East African Community, a key tool of Kenya’s foreign policy in the region.

The most intriguing move in expressing such a bitter declaration to Kenya was the use of a Regional Commissioner from Tanga to pass the message. This itself shows the magnitude of the rivalry between the two countries, a rivalry that if Kenya does not adopt effective negotiation models would weaken its diplomatic stature in the region.

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The rivalry with Tanzania augmented at a time when Kenya is facing even greater insurmountable challenges with her neighbor Somalia. The antagonism with Somalia is informed by the dispute over the Maritime Borders, an issue that Somalia has already presented to the International Court of Justice. The dissension between the two countries has initiated a series of diplomatic confrontations that have been reciprocated on different grounds.

Amidst all these, Kenya is also caught up in rivalry with Djibouti, over the application for the prestigious temporary representation at the United Nations Security Council. Kenya sees this as an opportunity to further strengthen its regional dominance, and Djibouti feels deserving of the same. At the moment, it is hard to forecast what the outcome will look like, but Kenya’s regional hegemony hangs on the balance.

As much as Kenya keeps enjoys international recognition and admiration as compared to any other countries in the region, these differences that Kenya is having with her neighbors could weaken her influence and diplomatic grip. Predicting the rise and fall of a country’s influence in international politics is notoriously difficult. However, we can carefully draw our pictures to predict, and the pictures drawn needs Kenya to rework its diplomatic touch with her neighbors.

The country thereby needs to strengthen its negotiation skills and settle the ballooning disagreements it is having with her neighbors. Kenya should invest in sending experienced envoys to these countries to reach compromise on some of the most pressing issues leading to the disagreements. ?

Israel Finney Awuor is an undergraduate student studying International Relations and Diplomacy at the Technical University of Kenya. [email protected]

East Africa Diplomacy
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