Dependency Approach in Kenya’s Foreign Policy: The Case of the 1964 Defence Pact

Over the weekend I read an article by Samuel Makinda on Kenya’s foreign policy. It is titled ‘From Quiet Diplomacy to Cold War Politics‘. His was an analysis of what drove Kenya’s foreign policy from independence. The main argument he propounds is what is now known as the dependency approach; dependency on foreign capital.

Dependency on foreign capital is what Makinda uses to explain Kenya’s reluctance to take radical stances on international affairs. This foreign policy condition he called ‘quiet diplomacy’, a term he borrowed from Prof. John Okumu who has also published academic articles on Kenya’s foreign policy. In Makinda’s view, Kenya could not authoritatively speak on pressing international issues owing to the fact that she was beholden to foreign capital.

Since taking up the capitalist approach, foreign capital was imperative to Kenya’s economic development. Such ties to this capital meant that the ruling elite could not take up any policy that would adversely harm the interests of those who wielded such capital and thus a convergence of interets. Therefore the true power behind foreign policy making in Kenya were those who had control of the foreign capital, at least according to Makinda.

The power of foreign capital shaped Kenya’s foreign policy in all spheres. In East Africa, Kenya took the position if a sub imperial power. In this he meant that she exploited the markets of her sister East African states to the benefit of this foreign capital. That these states provided a market for her goods was one of the reasons Makinda linked the major foreign policy concern to foreign capital as the dominant determining factor in the foreign policy making process. This was especially true for Tanzania which provided an opening for the southern African market.

In African and indeed international affairs, Makinda states that the same could be observed from Kenya’s behaviour. Kenya refrained from taking extreme stances as those akin to most African states then. This was because the Kenyan ruling elite did not want to scare off foreign capital pursuing ‘irresponsible’ policies.

This led him to make the assertion that the defence pact signed between Kenya and Ethiopia was a result of this dependence. In his view, Kenya outsourced military capacity so that she can concentrate on attracting and maintaining foreign capital. This was during the time Somalia was funding the shifta war in Kenya while engaging in bellicose rhetoric against Ethiopia.

This line of reasoning presents a problem when it comes to the security concerns of that time. Makinda ignores the fact that Kenya’s military was weak. In fact it was only in 1964 that Kenya asked for assistance from Britain to set up an air force and a navy; the same year when it entered into that common defence pact with Ethiopia. The fact that he never comments on the issue presents a chink in his argument.

Further, Kenya was making concerted efforts to source for military equipment and training for her army. This fact, in my view seriously clashes with the notion that Kenya wanted only to concentrate on attracting and maintaining foreign capital. Undeniably, the attraction and maintenance of foreign capital was top on the foreign policy agenda but so was security. Kenya must have felt that it was not in a position to cope with the increasing threat to her security especially being very young in independence.

In as much as I think that Makinda missed the mark on this, his analysis does provide valuable insight into Kenya’s foreign policy. On independence, it must have dawned on Kenyatta, I imagine, that he could not just chase foreigners away. He needed to maintain them owing to the fact that they controlled factors of production. For him, to throw the mzungu (Europeans) out like what many radicals in government had hoped, would be tantamount to committing ‘national economic suicide’ at least according to the nature of domestic and foreign policies he adopted.

With this in mind, it is not hard to see Makinda’s point on foreign capital. To this day a vestigial of this dependence remains in the so called economic diplomacy though not to the same degree. Kenya’s foreign policy is anchored on this pillar wherein foreign policy is a component of national development. The only difference now is that the pool of so called development partners has increased and thus Kenya’s ability to maneuver to the east.

All in all, that was an interesting read.