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Kenya Losing Diplomatic Edge In The Region
Thursday, June 22, 2006 – The laurels that Kenya has won due to its contribution to international peace and security are numerous.
But the just-concluded meeting of the US-led International Contact Group on Somalia at the Norwegian Mission to the UN in New York speaks volumes of where Kenya is placed in diplomatic circles.
The meeting, attended by Britain, Sweden, Italy, Tanzania, and the European Union, with the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations as observers, deliberately left Kenya out, despite the protests of Foreign minister Raphael Tuju.
Kenya's isolation from this meeting is only one example of the many ways in which the country has lost its international stature in past few years.
It is one of the perils of a coalition government that has focused so much on internal politics, that it has failed to take seriously its foreign policy and national interests.
Kenya is a major stakeholder in any discourse on stability in Somalia as a matter of national security. The stakes are even higher than those of Americans wary of an al Qaeda takeover in Mogadishu.
The heavy presence of small arms in Somalia is not conducive to Kenya’s own security. The pirates on Somali waters have adverse effects on Kenya. The daily flow of Somalis to Kenya as refugees has large implications for the economy. It is unjustifiable that the US would omit Kenya from its list of participants in this meeting.
Besides, Kenya has been an active participant in an International Contact Group on Somalia that has existed for years under the UN umbrella.
But it really is Kenya’s fault that it is losing credibility within the international community, and is thus being overlooked in such important meetings.
Take the recent example of its candidature for the newly created United Nations Human Rights Council. Kenya was endorsed by the 53 Members of the African Group (as East African region representative) and was thus assured of all African votes.
But two days to the elections, it announced its decision not to pursue its candidature, despite its improved human rights record since the 2002 elections, and the excellent work done by our diplomats as chief negotiators of the African Group on talks for the council's establishment. A North African country took the seat.
Similar actions make Kenya an international actor that lacks credibility. In spite of its lackluster economic performance, Tanzania is emerging as the hegemonic power in East Africa, gradually replacing Kenya.
Its active and focused participation in international forums gives it a lot of credibility. In the world of diplomacy, this is what matters most.
Tanzania is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is a key member of the newly-created UN Peace-Building Commission, has high-ranking officers at the African Union Commission and the Pan-African Parliament, among many others.
It works hard to ensure that its qualified citizens hold high ranks in international organizations. It is clear who is in charge and what the government policy is on many issues.
Kenya does have a foreign policy, but it lacks leadership that is consistent. With a change of three ministers and an equal number of permanent secretaries in the past three years, it has been difficult to maintain focus.
With a Cabinet that has focused on the next general elections, representation at major international organizations is not a priority.
With permanent secretaries and other senior staff not sure of their tenure of office, the focus is on lobbying for their jobs rather than reading the daily briefs from the dedicated foreign service staff, and thus they fail to provide strategic guidance.
With ambassadors wary of being "recalled" depending on the fortunes of their godfathers at any month, there is no morale to serve the country without reservations.
There really is need to avoid pushing Kenya deeper into this embarrassing situation in international affairs. A stronger place for Kenya in the international community has numerous benefits beyond stature. It has implications on foreign direct investment, tourism, employment, official direct investment, and trade.
The need for discourse on Kenya’s foreign policy has never been more urgent.
Dr Akombe is an adjunct assistant professor of Contemporary African Politics at Ramapo College, New Jersey