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.

Kenya Foreign Policy: Three Presidents and Fifty Years Later

In my view 2013 elections marked the end of the first republic. Since independence all the men who have had the privilege/pain of ruling over Kenyans were alive when the first government was formed. In fact they contributed greatly to the position the country is in at the moment both in domestic and foreign policy. The later is what I am most interested in.

It is a well documented fact that the first Kenyatta Government was west leaning. But that did not hinder some elements in Government, often called radicals, to engage the East nonetheless. That the Government of Kenya entered into trade and military agreements with USSR is an example. Daniel Branch – a professor of history with a deep interest in Kenyan history – chronicles in his book “Kenya: Between Hope and Despair 1963-2011” that Kenya was to receive an arms catchment from USSR before the British and American Governments impressed upon the Kenyan Government of the ramifications of doing so. The arms were ordered to go back to their country of origin.

In my view Kenyatta’s disenchantment with USSR came about from the events in the region. I draw inspiration from Hilary Ngweno’s “The Making of a Nation.” First there were the revolutions and counter revolutions in DRC which Kenya actively participated in the search for peace – Joseph Murumbi was the Minister for Foreign Affairs then. Secondly their was the mutiny on the Island of Zanzibar led by the army officer John Okello. Thirdly their was the uneasy relationship between Kenyatta and Obote where the former always thought that the latter wanted to supplant his Government in favour of a socialist leaning one led by Odinga; you may recall that there were arms that were found at the border near Odinga’s home area.

All these factors may have weighed heavily on the old man. His task was the establishment of a Government that followed the thesis of hard work for development. But here was another ideology calling for redistribution of resources which sounded – at least to him and his inner circle – like a scheme to benefit the indolent. Moreover this ideology threatened to take power by whatever means necessary. I assume that Kenyatta concluded that fraternizing with USSR would be detrimental to his rule; I do not preclude the hand of the British or American in forming this perception. Therefore it was politically expedient for him to align Kenya’s fortunes with the west while giving lip service to non-alignment to save face within the OAU an in the Non Alignment Movement (NAM).

Exit Kenyatta, in comes Moi. In the first few months he makes populist decisions. He releases political prisoners from detention, the famous Ngugi wa Thiong’o among them. Then comes the 1982 coup which should be read from the fact that Kenya was made a de jure one party state through the machinations of one Mwai Kibaki the VP (as he then was). The Government became repressive and thus Moi kept his promise of “fuata nyayo” (following the footsteps of his predecessor). Detentions without trials, arbitrary arrests, brutal crackdown of political dissidents among other tactics were employed to silence critics. Corruption became an issue as well, though it was also an issue even before Moi’s administration.

The cold war international system collapsed and the sole super power re-oriented its foreign policy. Whereas it believed that the biggest evil in the world was communism and made a point of containing it, with the ‘monster’ vanquished the order of priority changed. Moi’s excesses became to obvious to ignore. Erstwhile the Moi Government hid under the cloud of containment, now the space for maneuver had vanished.

There are some scholars – and to some extent I agree with them – who think that Moi went on a cleansing spree. Kenya’s foreign policy was pushed full throttle in defense of the morally bankrupt regime. This was done directly and indirectly. It was directly done through an aggressive diplomatic tactic of sending ministers, especially those in charge of foreign affairs, to sing the praises of the regime. The other, indirectly, was through the diplomatic engagement in Sudan and Somalia as peace makers in an attempt to deflect attention from the state of the nation.

History instructs that this effort failed. Moi was put under pressure to restore reforms and end his ‘dictatorial’ rule. With the constitution amended and the restriction of political parties lifted, there was an explosion of political activity on the scene. For two terms the opposition could not oust Moi but managed to block his protege Uhuru Kenyatta, now president, from getting into office.

I think this is where Kenya’s foreign policy got proper direction; rather than be used to protect the regime and curry favour with the west for aid, it was applied to a specific goal: national development through trade. The so-called economic diplomacy was hatched in Mwai Kibaki’s Administration. His was a plan to use foreign policy to meet Kenya’s industrialization needs. All the goals in Kenya’s foreign policy boiled/still boil down to how much money Kenya would make and how much growth it would register.

Could Kibaki’s background as an economist have something to do with it? I think this would be an interesting M.A. thesis; to what extent does the idiosyncrasies of Kenyan leaders account to the formulation and implementation of Kenya’s foreign policy? I would make an intelligent guess and say to a large extent. Kibaki saw things through the cost-benefit rubric and saw in China a perfect break from the past in terms of west (over)reliance.

Curiously, he seemed to have made a complete round-about. In 1965 he and Tom Mboya authored a document called “African Socialism and its Application to Kenya” which was Sessional Paper no.10. This document has been a linchpin in Kenya’s foreign relations. It was perceived as the total rejection of the concept of socialism and worse still communism in Kenya. But Kibaki, almost 40 years later, engages the communist Chinese; I find this fascinating to say/write the least.

Now there is the Kenyatta II Government. I cannot speak to the future as a social scientist can only investigate what has already happen as engaging in speculation is fraught with its own intricacies. However I do note the fact that the not so new Government is keeping in step with the Kibaki’s Administration’s view on foreign relations: that trade is the main tool through which Kenya will deal with the world. Interesting times ahead I should think.

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.