Studying Kenya’s Foreign Policy: Seminal Events that Shaped Kenya’s Foreign Policy, 1963-66 (Part II)

The following post continues from where the last one stopped. It traces some of the roots of Kenya’s foreign policy in major events that occurred between 1963 and 1964. It is hoped that these events do illuminate the decision that leader at the time thought they had to make to protect the interest of the nation. However on question to cogitate on is whether there was a general understanding of national interest or was its true meaning political expediency and survival.

Domestic and Regional Ideological Rifts

As Kenya became an independent state, ideological cohesion appeared to be fleeting. Erstwhile comrades against the tyrannical colonial system turned bitter foes in the struggle for ideological direction of the fledgling state. On the one hand there were moderates/conservatives who may have seen things through a cost benefit analysis and on the other were radicals that saw things through the prism of liberation and idealism.

The ideological struggle brought out an imperative issue. Which way would Kenya go in the bi-polar international system? Those in the moderate camp, notably Kenyatta and Mboya were of the view that Kenya should lean westward while those in the radical camp – Odinga, Aneko among others – saw fortunes in both the east and west. However the latter group was more inclined to the east than west owing to the anti-imperialist stance that USSR was using in gather support within and outside the United Nations framework. That battle lines had been drawn was clear from certain political events that took place from 1963 to 1967.

A battle soon ensued to force Odinga and radicals out of the Government. Odinga had his interior ministerial powers stripped and given the vice-presidency without portfolio. Historical chronologists opine that this was the beginning of the end for Odinga’s rise to power. This was done in 1964 when Kenya became a republic.

In 1965 Parliament passed a document that guides Kenya’s foreign policy to this day. Sessional Paper No.10 titles African Socialism and its Application to Kenya was passed by the Kenyan legislature. The aim of this document was to firmly put Kenya on the capitalist path and thereby aligning Kenya to the west. This, as one could imagine, may not have gone down well with those from the radical camp.

Then there was the Limuru Conference in 1966. The main aim of the conference was to thoroughly humiliate Oginga Odinga. His post of vice-chairman of the KANU party was watered down to create 7 other vice-chairmen posts with similar responsibilities. In effect Oginga was being told indirectly that his presence in the party (as in Government) was no longer welcomed. So incensed was he that he never contested for any one of the seats preferring to quit and form his own party.

Such an act makes one wonder what if. What if Oginga became president and ousted Kenyatta democratically? Would Kenya have gone the Ujamaa way that Tanzania went or embraced socialism as Obote did? We may never know but one thing is for sure that Kenya may have taken a different path from what Kenyatta took. That the ideological struggle was won by the moderates, those inclined to the west and capitalist, may have pushed Kenya further towards the west than the east.

Regional Coups and Upheavals

Independence in Kenya was greeted with turmoil and trepidation regionally. For instance the Democratic Republic of Congo had imploded. Congo service men had mutinied against their mainly Belgian officers. This was to bring with it years of turmoil and strife.

Kenya became engaged in the process when Kenyatta was asked to chair the OAU panel that was to find peace in the country. These efforts failed owing to the wider issues at stake. Involvement of bigger powers such as Belgium and the United States dwarfed any attempts at peace and Kenya, through the OAU, fell on angry rhetoric on imperialist and neo-colonialism.

Shortly after independence, in 1964, there were events that shook Kenyatta’s confidence in the state of security of the nation. There was a army mutiny in Tanzania led by one John Okello. The mutiny led to Tanganyika and Zanzibar uniting to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

To the west things appeared bad as well. The Ugandan interior minister, Felix Onama, had been taken prisoner by a section of the military that his docket oversaw. There was no much drama as there was in Tanzania as the minister was eventually released. However this exposed vulnerabilities in the Kenyatta government that needed to be tamed.

Before an adequate response to the situation, there was the Gilgil insurrection. Some army officers mutinied in Kenyatta’s Kenya which brought the point home for Kenyatta. For him to survive in power he must take security, that of the country and most importantly his own, seriously.

This coupled with the secessionist war up North (Shifta War) gave Kenyatta the impression that outside military aid was necessary. At the time the only powerful friend that Kenya had was Britain. Relations with the US were tepid at best as the US did not see any real value of Kenya at the time. Therefore, Kenyatta relied heavily on British support to buoy his Government and hedge it against insurrections.

The British were as enthusiastic as Kenyatta was. Keen on protecting their east African investment, most of which was in Kenya, there existed a congruence of interests. Kenyatta’s Government would be protected as long as the British interest in the country was protected as well; a quid pro quo if you like.

These are the events that pushed Kenya into the waiting arms of the west. There were other events that occurred during this period that might have had an impact on Kenya’s foreign policy. However the above presented events appear to have had a bigger impact on the same than others did.

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