Dependency Approach to Kenya’s Foreign Policy and the Concept of Independence

Some Kenya foreign policy scholars opine that Kenya’s foreign policy has been devoid of any semblance of independence. It is their main thesis that Kenya’s foreign policy objectives are run by foreign capital; the need to have it and the need to have more. This argument has been used to explain Kenya’s behaviour in international affairs: lip service to the concepts of non-alignment and pan-africanism. This approach places primacy on Kenya’s independence without interrogating the concept in the reality of the international system.

In the period immediately preceding WWII clamour for independence reached fever pitch around the world. In Kenya, the history is no different. Oginga Odinga (Not yet Uhuru, 1967) records events from 1947 up to independence as the most decisive period in the struggle for independence. Even in this clamour, few understood what independence really meant. To many, it meant that the white man (mzungu) would leave Kenya and that the system would revert to status quo ante. On this they were gravely mistaken.

Before colonization, little of Africa was connected to the international economic system. Many peoples of Africa went about their business unperturbed by the outside world many knew little, if anything, about. Their experience was restricted to mundane routine and inter-communal interaction. However, when the colonialist came calling, the situation radically changed. Africa was literally mapped out and suddenly was thrust into world affairs more so international political economy.

It is through this lens that Kenyan – and by extension African – independence should be examined. Independence in the 1960s meant complete freedom from any and all western influence. But a reading of the international system could not allow such a bold shift. Many African states, Kenya included, were beholden to capital investments from their erstwhile colonial masters. Therefore, many African states may have been granted political autonomy but never had economic independence. This gave rise to the term neo-colonialism.

Pundits blamed those in power for making policies that further entrenched foreign capital interests in African states. Kenya was among those countries to be considered to have given little resistance to the pressures of foreign capital interests. Leaders, especially Jomo Kenyatta, have been castigated for abandoning the pan-african cause. However no attempt was made to contextualize these policies in light of the international structure that was based more on competition than cooperation and riddled with inequality.

Therefore it is inconceivable to expect Kenya to take a completely independent foreign policy (which was labeled as radical and irresponsible by some Kenyan leaders) in light of the conditions pertaining in the international system. Kenya’s economy was agrarian based, with the nascent Government relying mainly on exports for foreign currency. Through an aggressive Africanization policy, Kenya would have put the factors of production in the hands of the Kenyan African only to have products on its hands that it could not find a market owing to policies that would have been deemed too radical to former colonial masters which were main destinations for these products.

The international economic system is just as exploitative now as it was then. It emphasizes economic gain on the patterns of national interests at the expense of common good. Such a system is based on bargaining power only now it is based more on economics than military force. Now, as it was then, the system is based on how much power one has to push through their agenda in the international system. Therefore, Kenya – a new comer with little influence – could not take an independent approach if it meant loss of markets and foreign capital. This was where ideals met reality.

Be that as it may, I do not consider the dependency approach inaccurate. It is only the way it assumes that Kenya was independent to make decisions about her foreign policy objectives whereas in reality, it had very little space to maneuver while remaining economically viable. Also, most of the leaders of independent Africa associated with foreign capital more for personal gain than any overarching national interest. Nonetheless the hand of the international system should not be ignored by dependency theorists in assessing Kenya’s nascent foreign policy.


South Sudan Conflict Analysis: Levels, Actors, Interests and Solutions

What started as a minor mutiny in South Sudan is slowly turning into a civil war. A conference is being held in Addis Ababa to try and resolve the situation before it escalates further. The talks are between the Salva Kiir (President of South Sudan) and Riek Machar (former vice president of South Sudan) factions of the conflict divide. It appears that the talks are, so far, not yielding fruits that will end the conflict as the fighting on the ground continues unabated. Much has been said about the cause of the conflict, mainly centered on ethnic rivalry and personal ambition, typifying how simplistically conflicts in Africa are viewed. However, a more insightful analysis is needed to better understand the dynamics.

This post will employ a modified Kenneth Waltz’s levels of analysis model suitable for civil war context. The levels of analysis as envisioned in Waltz Man, the State and War, are the individual, the state and the international system. These levels were devised as a way of identifying sources of conflict or foreign policy objectives. They were meant to analyse the international system and not so much focused on civil conflict. Therefore this post seeks to modify this tool in a way that is better suited to analyse the South Sudan conflict.

In analyzing the South Sudan conflict, this post focuses on four areas: individuals concerned, the political system of the state, dyadic interactions with Sudan and the regional/international levels. The aim here it to examine the various actors at the different levels and interrogate the various interests at stake that will either compel peace or exacerbate the conflict further.

At the individual level are the two protagonists, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. The latter’s interest appear to be aimed at effecting some form of political change that would allow him a stab at the highest office in the land. Since his dismissal from the vice presidential position, he has committed his energies to unseat Kiir in elections but because of how the system is (political system level) he found out that it was nearly impossible.The former, however, as the incumbent is clinging on to power by whatever means necessary. These two protagonists each have a strong ambition; one to become president and the other to remain as president which in the view of this post are personal and have no linkage to their vision for the state through they use it as a smoke screen to hide their real intention: power.

In the short term the solution might be sharing power until a free and fair election is held. This solution has a big problem in that no government can ever negotiate power sharing if it perceives that it has an upper hand in the field. In this case the results on the battle field directly affect political negotiations on the table. Success on the field in terms of acquisition of strategic military/economic positions translates into leverage on the negotiating table. Therefore the protagonists will not be willing to come to the table if they feel that they can achieve their goals in the field.

At political system level the main issue is how political competition is regulated. Too much power is centered at the presidential level and generally political pluralism is not encouraged. This could be the reason why some of the rebels took up arms against the government as there is no other peaceful political recourse through which they can express their wishes. Thus the civil conflict may be a symptom of the underlying lack of political pluralism and strongman politics that has plagued many liberation movements in Africa.

The solution for this is more long term as it will involve lengthy political reconstruction. This would be necessary especially in terms of elections, how they are conducted and by whom. The idea here is not only to provide a political system that adheres to pluralistic principles but also to inspire confidence in those  who would use the system to determine their leadership as justice must not only be done it must be seen to be done.

At the dyadic level there is the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan which, the author thinks, should be construed through oil money. South Sudan has ambitious plans to transfer oil refinery points from Sudan to Kenya under the LAPSET project. If this happens Sudan would lose the revenue it attracts from the lucrative oil business which is bad. Therefore, they are not entirely altruistic in the ‘help’ they are giving South Sudan. Consider this, that even as civilians die, the only thing they rushed to protect were the oil fields.

Moreover, the author does not put it beyond their capacity to foment strife in order to achieve the goal of getting to the oil. It may very well be that the conflict has this dyadic angle which will affect how it is going to be solved. On this, the options of a solution are nothing sort of finding an economic solution to the gap that would be left if and when South Sudan completes the transfer of oil refineries.

However, the solution may come from the regional and international levels. This may come as either economic pressure and use of intervention forces should the conflict escalate further. China is set to lose big if South Sudan slips into civil anarchy and therefore should play a big role in the resolution of the conflict. Kenya too stands to lose as much as South Sudan is an unalienable partner in the LAPSET project as well as fertile ground for investment opportunities. Uganda’s security is on the line as well owing to the close proximity of its borders to the theater of war. The last thing Museveni, in light of rebels groups marauding in the north, wants is to have lawlessness on two sides of Uganda’s borders: South Sudan and DRC.

In conclusion, as the talks continue in Addis Ababa there should be an evaluation of all the interest that can be derail the path to sustainable peace. If this is not taken into consideration then there would be recurrence of conflict and we may have another DRC on our hands. There is hope for the best, the author thinks.