Before I begin, let me state categorically that this entry does not concern itself with the suitability of a Uhuru-Ruto ticket. It only focuses thereon for the sole reason of attempting to project how our foreign policy articulation would be affected. Therefore, if there are any undercurrents in my argument that suggest otherwise, it is highly regretted.
It is now considered as trite knowledge that domestic politics do affect foreign policy. In other words that the internal political conditions of a state do affect the formulation and execution of that states foreign policy. Allow me to demonstrate how the two are interlinked. I will use the example of the current Kenyan political scene.
About two weeks ago, two prominent Kenyan politicians accused of international crimes at the ICC announced that they will be running for the president and deputy president of the Republic of Kenya. Assuming that they are elected owing to their strong political bases, how, if at all, would this affect our foreign policy?
It is my contention that it will affect our foreign policy implementation. In politics, perception is king. Therefore it does not matter what one’s true intentions are in any political action; what matters however is how others view this action. Thus, the actions of these two politicians may be viewed in one of two ways: genuinely or as suspect.
Of those that would view it genuinely are, among others, some African leaders and mostly China. Support for the ICC is the underlying reason for this. Most African states, with the exception of Uganda, South Africa, Malawi and Botswana, have publicly declared either that they would not arrest Bashir if he ever stepped in those countries or that they would not cooperate fully with the ICC on the matter. Thus the rest of the African nations would be least bothered by who becomes the president.
China not being a signatory to the ICC statute would most likely not concern itself with who is the president as long as they have unfettered access to our resources and are made our main development partner. The Chinese philosophy on human rights which includes some elements captured by international criminal law, has been one of cultural relativism. This means that they view human rights as being sensitive to a people’s culture. Therefore it is further unlikely that the Chinese will get involved in any issues relating human rights let alone the ICC.
Westward, the situation might be very different. The vocal US and EU have thrown their weight behind the ICC. This conclusion is arrived at by the numerous calls by the two for Kenya to fully cooperate with the ICC. Despite the occasional rhetoric that ‘only Kenyans will decide their future’, they would rather see the pair face the court as individuals and not run in the elections at all. They are likely to perceive the move by the pair as an avenue to frustrate the court and thus are unlikely to support their candidature.
Further, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that their traditional role in Africa and Kenya in specific has been usurped by China. The latter has increased its presence in the country so much so that western diplomats cry foul. Not long ago western diplomats held a press conference wherein they berated the President of Kenya for ignoring them in favour of the Chinese diplomats. It was then that the German Ambassador said that Kenya usually goes to them to ask for funds on important things like the elections and she wondered whether the Chinese usually contribute anything. Therefore it is supremely important for them to get a friendly president to regain that position they had and their lot is not with Uhuru and Ruto.
In light of western interests in Kenya, I reasonably foresee that they will find ways of putting pressure on these two to relinquish their designs for the top job. If that fails there is also the possibility of sanctions as use of soft power to coerce them to abdicate should their candidature be successful. The fact that Kenya has vigorously employed the ‘look east’ economic diplomacy foreign policy does not make things easier. The US and EU are struggling economically and it would be a reprieve for them if Africa and in particular Kenya would play ball and allow them access as they do the Chinese.
Having considered the above, it will not be surprising to see the US and EU reducing their activities in Kenya. Worst case scenario would be them trying to destabilize our economy via sanctions and other means so that Kenyans themselves through hardships would find a way of ridding themselves of the pair. Some have suggested that Kenya could become a pariah state joining the ranks of Sudan. I am not certain that this would occur but time will tell.
In my view, technocrats that are tasked with the monitoring of Kenya’s foreign policy must examine this angle and come up with policy options that will direct our relations with mostly the US and EU. Doing this would provide better maneuvering space than doing damage control after the fact. My only hope is that all Kenyans are aware that the simple act of voting has ramifications way beyond our national borders.