Friday, November 04, 2016

Our foreign policy muddle

Kenya has been the principal voice in two key regional peace initiatives whose effects are acutely felt in Nairobi. These are in relation to the Sudan peace process and the Somalia peace process. While the war between the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan may be over, South Sudan is in the middle of a civil war that shows no signs of abating and has frustrated the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the United Nations and the African Union. The Somalia civil war, raging since 1992, also shows no signs of ending and now that it has sucked in al Qaeda land the Islamic State, might never end.

Kenya's foreign policy over the past eight years has focussed almost exclusively on the International Criminal Court; while Kenya should have taken a lead in stabilising the peace in South Sudan and keeping foreign fighters from making a home in Somalia's badlands, it has spent more time rallying the African Union against the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute that established it. Victory is in sight with the intended withdrawal of South Africa from the treaty, though if Jacob Zuma loses a vote of confidence, the South African government may yet heed Botswana's advise and stay in.

Kenya has troops in South Sudan and Somalia, the former as part of a United Nations peace-keeping force and the latter as an African Union stabilisation force charged with supporting the Somalia federal government. Neither mission is going well. The United Nations' Secretary-General, after an enquiry into the military response to deadly attacks in July on a U.N. compound housing 27,000 displaced people, fired the Kenyan mission commander because “a lack of leadership on the part of key senior mission personnel culminated in a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence” as reported in international newspapers. 

Kenya reacted poorly, to say the least. The President announced that Kenya was pulling its troops out of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and that it would no longer support the South Sudan peace process. We must ask, in relation to Kenya's near-abroad, what is Kenya's foreign policy? The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) projects were supposed to connect Kenya's new port in Lamu with South Sudan, Ethiopia and Northern Uganda. However, the Government seemed to prioritise the controversial Standard Gauge Railway projects, took its focus of the escalating instability in South Sudan that persuaded Uganda and Ethiopia to push ahead with alternative projects; Uganda went ahead with plans for a pipeline to Tanzania's Port of Tanga and Ethiopia went ahead with its railway to Djibouti.

South Sudan's continued instability is a threat to the stability of the whole of Northern Kenya, especially now that Ethiopian troops are withdrawing from Somalia and Burundi has threatened to withdraw too. The flow of small arms, fuelling the resource-based conflicts in Kenya's northern frontiers, has increased. Meanwhile, because of the stretched-thin non-capacity of Kenya's intelligence and security forces, more and more al Shabaab attacks are taking place against the civilian population further undermining the business and economic links between Kenya and its neighbours and preventing full-scale domestic development programmes from being implemented effectively.

No doubt the ICC Question was important at the start of the current government's tenure; its resolution would stabilise the domestic power-play between the ruling alliance and the opposition coalition. But the focus that it drew away from South Sudan, Somalia, southern Ethiopia and Northern Uganda has fuelled domestic crises of its own for the residents of Kenya's north. With Kenya's withdrawal from South Sudan, its insistence on the deportation of refugees back to Somalia and its continued military losses in Somalia point to an incoherent foreign policy, especially when Kenyan businesses are losing money due to the instability on those countries. Our policy must be clarified. Whether it will depends on whether or not the Cabinet Secretary waddles off to the African Union Commission.

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