Do ‘Choices have Consequences’?: British-Kenya Relations after UhuRuto Win

I recall that before the March 2013 elections there was a lot of acrimony. Much of it centered on whether Kenya was ready for international sanctions should the electorate elect ICC suspects. The American Undersecretary of State for African Affairs, Johnny Carson,  is famously quoted as saying ‘choices have consequences’ which was widely perceived as a thinly veiled warning against voting for the ICC pair. However the recent on goings give the realist perspective an edge over the idealist perspective as far as British foreign policy towards Kenya is concerned.

In realist thought – inclusive of all its variations e.g. neo-realism, classical realism and so forth – a state’s bottom line is its national interests. A state at the end of the day seeks two things: security and power. It may make international obligations (read international law) but would follow this to the extent that it does not impinge on its national interests.

Scholars and IR experts have pondered whether states can succinctly and coherently state their national interests. Others question whether the state acts as an entity or one should look more closely at its various components to discover its motives. Either way you look at it, the state is the sum total of all its components. Therefore in international circles, no body ever says that it is the Ministry of Trade or Foreign Affairs that does something, rather they attribute whatever action to the state itself.

Using the realist perceptual framework of analyzing international relations, I proceed to map the actions of London towards Nairobi after the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. However, firstly one must note that the British were vehemently opposed to the election of the pair. In fact the British High Commissioner, one Dr. Chris Turner, toured the Rift Valley in what was deemed to be a campaign against the two.

Without delving into issues of diplomatic decorum – that other states must not interfere in the domestic affairs of other states – one thing struck me much later. Kenya is important to the UK, with or without Kenyatta and Ruto! This was to be later confirmed by how the British never followed through with their policy of ‘essential contact’ as stated by the High Commissioner.

You may recall that the British House of Commons impressed upon the British Government to have stronger ties with Kenya. Much later the British House of Lords (Britain has a bicameral system much like in Kenya, the latter is the upper house and the former the lower one) followed suit in extolling the virtues of stronger ties with Kenya. But what about the ICC trials and British commitment to international rule of law?

Reading through the Hansard of the lower house, I was amazed at the arguments made by a certain Eric Joyce M.P. He all but called the trials a sham. Attacking the credibility of the court, he mentioned that it is a political tool rather than a serious court. He also mentioned that even though the cases are grave, the suspects were cooperating with the court unlike a notable African president who continues to defy the warrants of arrest issues against him, with the help of the AU of course!

Did the executive listen? Despite the fact that the executive arm of the Government – in a constitutional democracy – is widely accepted as being responsible for foreign policy formulation, the legislature is increasingly getting involved. That President Kenyatta was invited for the Somali conference may be proof of British Parliament’s persuasive powers, however perhaps a study need be done before it is taken as the gospel truth.

This brings me to the this question: what in the world is British interest in Kenya? Other than the capital (investments and all) that has been here since independence, there are other things at stake. One among them is oil. Kenya’s oil has been confirmed to be viable with an excess of 300 million barrels as is reported. With projected income of an estimated $2.6 trillion, every state with the capacity to drill wants a piece of the action. Tullow Oil (British firm of course) is doing the drilling at the moment. Should that then surprise any adept observer of international politics why ‘essential contact’ is unfeasible?

Secondly there is the issue of international migration. A British legislator recommended in his report that the British would request the Kenyan Government to house refugees who are seeking asylum in the UK. They (UK) would foot the bill for safe houses in the country. This may be attributed to the recent growth of nationalism, a corollary of the euro debt crisis. But if this would not work in their favour, consider the next point.

How about returning them to their country of origin? Somali has been at war since 1991 when Siad Barre was overthrown. It was/is the quintessential failed state as virtually no Government control could be established. This led to the mass displacement of Somali refugees all over the world, some of whom found their way to Britain.

Owing to the inverse correlation between population size and essential services, a permanent solution needed to be sought. One way was to have off-shore processing centers in Kenya as described above or restore peace and security in Somalia. It is through the prism of the latter that I look at the recent London conference on Somali. As mentioned earlier, Uhuru Kenyatta was invited to attend in person despite protestation from UK civil society. This goes to show that Kenya is an important ally in the pursuit of British national interests which in this case are to choke the flow of Somali refugees into Britain thus easing population pressure.

Connected therewith is the role of Kenya in the pacification of Somalia. In 2010, Kenya decided to pursue al-Shabaab militia under a doctrine called hot pursuit. This doctrine, though inapplicable to the situation according to law of the sea rules, was used to legitimize Kenya’s engagement in hostility – perhaps because international law outlaws belligerency unless justified by self defense. The legality regardless, the engagement of Kenya means a reduction of military footprint of the world’s powers like UK.  In 1993 the US tried to intervene in Somali with dire ramifications (Black Hawk Down/Battle of Mogadishu, there is a movie out there somewhere that is very telling). This, I think, served as a lesson to other world powers who may have thought of the military intervention option.

Without even considering British bases and training in Kenya, or that they need a partner in the war against piracy and terrorism, I am convinced that in this case British national interests reign supreme. Further, I think states conform their actions to international obligations such as the support of ICC and shunning suspects but only when they coincide with their interests and furthers their foreign policy objectives.

Conclusion? Yes choices have consequences. However the bottom line remains that states must survive and only way to do that it to meet their interests. ‘The ends justify the means’ so it is said therefore no matter what the British may think/feel of/about Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, they must find a way of working with them (or foment nefarious plans to eject them) to capitalize on their foreign policy objectives.