Kenya’s ‘New’ Foreign Policy Approach

Media reports on the latest Kenyan diplomatic news are awash with news of Kenya’s new foreign policy direction. On a recent interview on NTV (local television station), the Kenyan foreign secretary Amb. Amina exuberantly explained this new direction. She succinctly called it economic diplomacy and explained the that the trips made by the deputy president to African states were meant for this purpose. But what is economic diplomacy, is it new and how does it suit Kenya in the changing structure and nature of the international system?

Economic diplomacy is one of the pillars of Kenya’s foreign policy that predominantly focuses on trade and trade apposite matters. The pillar ostensibly applies the theories of Adam Smith and David Ricardo in advocating for Kenya’s competitive advantage in production of certain products such as horticultural goods and the robust tourism sector. 

Among the other pillars, this one is the most integrated to vision 2030. The latter is the blue-print of catapulting Kenya into a middle-income state by the year 2030. That trade is a big component of this growth and development is trite knowledge. Economic diplomacy is a good example of how foreign policy is used to meet domestic policy objectives. 

Peace, Cultural, Environmental and Diaspora diplomacy are the other pillars of Kenya’s foreign policy. These others are couched – in a document drafted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but yet to be adopted officially by the cabinet – in a language that appears to be geared toward the economic well being of the nation. Peace is needed for economic growth, culture is a strong selling point for the country e.g. the Maasai culture packaged as a tourist attraction which in turn attracts revenue, environment is important for sustainable development and the sustainability of our tourism sector and lastly diaspora funds remitted back to the country provide needed funds to run the economy. In short, all the pillars look to the growth of the Kenyan economy. 

This brings me to my second question, is it new? I do not think so. The document that encapsulates the Kenya’s foreign policy puts this as one of the pillars of Kenya’s foreign relations. The document was drafted long before the Jubilee government came to power. In any event it has arguably been the leading principle in Kibaki’s foreign policy.

Since 2002 the Kibaki administration had been keen on expand the pool of international partners. China was one such available partner. With China’s policy of not conflating human rights with other foreign policy considerations makes it an ideal ‘partner’. Thus the traditional western allies were either being jettisoned or their influence on the internal running of the government curbed. This point poignantly connects Kenya’s foreign policy decision to the evolving nature and structure of the international system. 

The international system moved from bi-polar to unipolar at the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989. This structure saw America (the sole super power) create a human rights agenda for the world. American foreign policy has always seen, by most of its ruling elite at least, the world through the eyes of Wilsonian idealism; that the world could be made a better place by the propagation of democratic institutions. Thus America began the human rights crusade – after vanquishing its mortal enemy USSR – that saw many an African dictators fall by the wayside. 

Consequently, it also saw a rise in American patronizing meddling in the internal affairs of other states as part of their global crusade to democratize the rest of the world, Kenya being among them. However the international system was changing as American strength ebbed into the twenty-first century. Bedeviled by economic crises and an economy that is seemingly slowing down in terms of growth rates, the rise of other states – particularly China with its cultural relativist stand on human rights – presented Kenya with the opportunity to break away from sole/predominant reliance of aid from the United States. Don’t get me wrong, the US was instrumental in bring about reforms such as the abolition of one party state system in Kenya but at the same time was too eager to draw the future of the republic thus usurping the sovereign right of the people of Kenya.

With this in mind, Kibaki’s foreign policy shifted to the East. This, among many other similar initiatives by African heads of state, has sparked what many analyst must see as a throw back to the competition between the US and USSR but only this time it is the Chinese (in stead of the Russians) – though communist in political structure – have embraced the capitalistic thirst for competition. Presidential visits, aid, investments and so on, is being seen on an unprecedented scale in Africa, reminiscent of the old colonial scramble for African wealth. 

Therefore, I think what the Jubilee government is calling ‘new’ may not be so new after all. To its credit, the Government seems to be paying particular attention to the region and continent. The Head of State has severally called upon African countries to invest in other African countries and kick start inter-Africa trade. He and his deputy are milking the ICC trial perceived persecution to build political clout in the continent; possibly to rival a position that has been enjoyed by South Africa for a long time. They are using this platform to launch Kenya’s economic diplomacy which I think is shrewd. However as a cynic, I am loath to only see the good in man as men are rarely good, therefore it may very well be that they are also gathering clout as a means of intimidating the ICC but more of this will be examined at a later time.

In conclusion, ever since the Kibaki administration Kenya’s foreign policy has tilted heavily to international economics. Whereas in Moi’s Government foreign policy was heavily employed to defend the KANU regime and its Machiavellian tactics of holding on to power, Kibaki’s foreign policy has been one marked with a lot of development aspiration and rhetoric. It is no wonder that one of the documents that the draft Kenya foreign policy document lists as a guide is the Vision 2030. I am sure Kenyan’s are watching to see which way the Jubilee Government takes the country’s foreign policy.

Relevance of History in the Study of Foreign Policy

Social scientist, unlike their natural science (by this I mean physical, chemical, biological etc) counterparts, do not have the luxury of labs and fancy equipment to generate knowledge. In fact it is sacrilege among the most conservative of the natural science community to even think that social ‘science’ is a science; such circles often dismiss social scientists as heretics or charlatans. However I ague that though the natural scientific community may have a point, social science is not heresy at worst and through the instrumentality of history I intend to demonstrate this point.

The argument over the ‘scientificness’ – for want of a befitting term – of social science has been a raging debate among academics. The two protagonists in this drama are the natural and social scientists. The natural scientists – if I may call them that – opine that social science is no science owing to the lack of consistency in findings. This they attribute to the erratic behaviour/characteristics of its main subject matter: human beings. Human beings – unlike a rock, or the element phosphorous – are unpredictable as they are diverse and therefore what ever theory that one comes up with may not be universal, a mainstay doctrine in the natural scientific world. Any conclusions that social scientists would make would be mere conjecture, they would say.

On the other hand, social scientist oppose this opinion. Their argument is that even in the natural scientific world, not all test will provide the same result even though the elements and conditions in those tests were identical. In most experiments the results are simalar but not strictly the same thus there are degrees of variation. In their defense they state that human behaviour – albeit erratic – can be studied and quantified. The results derived from such studies can be used to inform policy. It is here that history is relevant.

Foreign Policy analysis is a specialized branch within the wider International Relations study (others would argue that it is directly linked to Political Science and others say that it is multidisciplinary and thus novel). It focuses on the decision making process of not only traditional (Ministry of Foreign Affairs/State Department) but other groups within the political space that impact on the foreign policy decision making of a nation. These other groups include political parties, civil society organizations, media and public opinion among others. Recently (I think), the study has taken a multidisciplinary approach incorporating political psychology which measures rationality among other aspects of foreign policy decision making process.

History goes a long way in establishing pattern in human behaviour; importance of human behaviour in foreign policy decision making cannot be gainsaid. Indeed human behaviour is erratic but only viewed in isolation of other factors such as time and space. To understand the foreign policy decision making process of Kenya, we need to look at history, first to establish a coherent pattern, two to establish reasons behind those decisions and lastly to make strategic predictions of how such policies will react in the future. Some examples would suffice.

Kenya’s foreign policy has been fairly consistent from independence. It has religiously followed a pattern of development since the independence of the country and enlisted foreign policy to market Kenya as a good development destination. To make such a conclusion one must look through history to be sure. From the Kenyatta and Moi era to the Kibaki regime, history is replete with examples of how Kenya’s policy has been consistent in the promotion of its development agenda through ‘development patners’.

Similarly, one can never fully understand American foreign policy unless one consults history. American policy provides a good case study of policies that were radically new in their time; it never emphasized balance of power as did the ones in continental Europe. In fact it is considered to have introduced a moralistic/idealistic (borderline utopian) outlook of international affairs. All the acts encouraged abroad were marked against a moral score card. It is by realizing how the state was founded – through the bloody fight for freedom from oppression and tyranny and the belief in good over evil – can one find therein the greatest motivation of American policy.

Therefore, I dare say, history provides evidence of verifiability of human behaviour. The term that ‘history repeats itself’ – though vehemently challenged by some strident history academics provides fodder for my argument. Nothing in human behaviour is entirely new. If one digs into history one can find a chain of evidence of a behavioural pattern that is considered ‘new’ today: fashion fads come quickly to mind. Since foreign policy decisions are made by human beings; human beings that can be studied by consulting history then it follows that one must study historical record of state behaviour to comprehensively analyse a states foreign policy. All in all foreign policy study (as with all social scientific subjects) can be studied accurately.