Kenyan Foreign Policy: An Introduction

Since independence Kenya has had no written foreign policy. This does not mean that Kenya did not have a foreign policy at all. There has been a misconception fuelled by our propensity to have policies in written form. The view is at best inaccurate since the conduct of our international affairs was hinged on some basic principles which were unwritten.

Among such principles was the principle of non-alignment. The largest portion of Kenya’s post-indepedence period was spent in the cold war era. Kenya played the delicate balance of remaning a capitalistic state while at the same time engaged the Eastern bloc for developmental projects. Case in point was the adoption of Sessional Paper 10 of 1965 (which put Kenya on a capitalistic path) while at the same time recieving funds for building hospitals such as the one in Nyanza.Therefore, even without a written foreign policy, Kenya was able to conduct her foreign relations with some level of predictability.

To study Kenya’s foreign policy, one must look deep at our nation’s history. Looking at how Kenya made its decisions on domestic matters and foreign relations could give clues to our national interests. It could also explain the reasoning behind some of the principles that held our foreign policy then and even now. This will be important in analysing those principles and examining their relevance to the reality of today’s international system.

Studying Kenya’s political system is also important. We have a new constitution with new institutions. In the formulation and implementation of our foreign policy, one needs to think carefully about the role of each institution vis-a-vis the country’s foreign policy. For instance now we have the National Security Council which is tasked to implement the Kenya’s foreign policy. To understand Kenya’s implementation process, it would be prudent to examine institutions such as these to get a fuller picture.

Finally one must look at sub-regional, regional and universal political dynamics. The fact that Kenya is at the heart of a conflict prone region warrants an examination of how the region’s security situations impact our thirst to quench national interest priorities. Also politics in Africa and the world must be interrogated to inform our policy in order to take advantage of the opportunities available and bullwark against the threats. Students of business studies would call that conducting a SWOT analysis i.e. analysing a states Strengths, Weakness, Oportunities and Threats in order to achieve its national interests.

To this end the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been and is working on a document that provides guidelines on Kenya’s Foreign Policy. This document outlines the major themes that are to guide our foreign relations with other nations. It seeks to attain coherence in this arena by providing a reference document wherefrom our policy can be derived.

It heavily relies on five pillars that are to articulate our interests in the international forum. These are economic, peace, environmental, cultural and diaspora diplomacy. These are the key areas that Kenya seeks to focus on to formulate and execute her foreign policy.

However it should be noted that the major pillar of the five is economic/commercial diplomacy. All the other four pillars are connected to the economic wellbeing of the state and especially to vision 2030. A majority of Kenya’s actions in the international arena are to be seen in this light.

In conclusion, Kenya’s foreign policy entails much more than meets the eye. Its study involves knowledge that cuts across disciplines and is time consuming, but an understanding thereof provides insights into reasons that drive Kenya to do the things she does in the international arena.