When President William Ruto named his predecessor and bitter foe Uhuru Kenyatta as a special peace envoy in the region, the appointment caught most political pundits by surprise.
But the past four months, following that announcement, have not only proved critics wrong but also demonstrated Kenya’s political maturity among the league of nations, and buttressed the country’s monumental stature as the diplomatic pillar of the region.
Within that short period, Kenya has brokered a truce between warring factions in eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in the troubled Tigray region of Ethiopia, setting a firm foundation for long-term peace.
In November last year after several rounds of talks, the Ethiopian government and rebel Tigray forces “agreed to permanently silence the guns,” signalling an end to the conflict that has rocked the region for decades.
The M23 rebels in Eastern DRC also, earlier this month, announced a ceasefire and orderly withdrawal from conquered territories as part of the political peace process.
These two wins, and the corresponding long-term local and regional benefits demonstrate how seriously Kenya should enhance its diplomatic standing as the peace, security and economic hub of the East African Community and the larger Horn of Africa, even as we deal with pressing domestic challenges.
The long-term benefits of political stabilisation of the region are more investment opportunities, and a more conducive economic climate to win the confidence of the international community.
For decades, Africa has been the centre of international ridicule; mocked with the most disparaging names over our endless begging for international interventions to end conflict and hunger ravaging the continent.
Kenya is a commercial hub of the region boasting of the sixth largest economy on the continent by Gross Domestic Product, and the largest in the Eastern African region.
We are also the gateway to several landlocked countries in the region, whose importation of goods through the Port of Mombasa has been a source of livelihood for millions of Kenyans.
As a former member of the United Nations Security Council, Kenya – through its ongoing efforts for long-term stabilisation of the region – has an enviable opportunity to change this discourse for the betterment of Africa and the greater good of our people.
As the chairperson of the National Assembly Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee, one of my earliest assignments last year was to vet the Kenyan government’s request to deploy troops to eastern DRC.
This conflict has taken many dimensions throughout the six decades following Congo’s independence from Belgium, marked with notorious cycles of secessionist movements and deadly civil wars that have left the mineral-rich country at the mercy of international cartels.
I remember deliberating for hours with my committee members on the worst that could happen if we declined the government’s request to deploy our troops to the East African Community Regional Force in DRC.
This deployment would be a Kenyan commitment to intervene in a conflict in a country with which we do not share a border. That said, there were threats of monumental proportions on regional peace and security as well as uncertainties on the fate of critical Kenyan investments locally and within the region.
At stake were Kenyan businesses of critical strategic interest like numerous banks, thousands of Kenyan businesspeople working in DRC, bilateral trade between Kenya and DRC as well as utilisation and future fortunes of the Mombasa Port which is the source of livelihood for thousands of Kenyan families.
History has shown that Kenya has suffered the worst brunt of conflicts in the region, ranging from hosting millions of refugees from war-torn neighbouring countries, to suffering the wrath of terrorist groups in the region.
Yet, the same history has shown that Kenya has made significant diplomatic strides by silencing guns within the region to the economic benefit of our people and continent.
If parties in the Tigray conflict heed the ceasefire agreement, Kenya will have assisted to broker truce to one of the region’s most brutal conflicts, and enhance bilateral trade opportunities between Kenya and Ethiopia to the benefit of our people.
At the same time, Kenya stands to multiply the economic fortunes of Kenyans who draw their lifeline from the Port of Mombasa and the other economies that rely on the cargo business between Mombasa and Kinshasa if the guns go silent in the DRC.
Kenya has established an enviable legacy of a caring big brother and a dependable ally of strategic international superpowers and we must do everything within our powers to jealously guard this feat.