The Time for Interpreting Kenya's Pragmatic Outlook has Come

By Leonard Wanyama | Concluding his article in the Sunday Nation of 7th of June 2015, Why Kenya's Regional Powerhouse Status Is under Serious Threat, Professor Karuti Kanyinga stated that the energies required of the Jubilee Administration for regional leadership are being consumed by an inconsistency of development action and institutional corruption. My opinion sees his viewpoint as an assertion on governance challenges rather than failures in external relations.

May I point out that I do not hold brief to or for the administration. This is because without such a disclaimer political affiliations have increasingly becomes a touchy subject in this country's public intellectualism. Nonetheless, I am pricked by incessant analysis of foreign policy based solely on the political issues of the day at the expense of other considerations such as overall statecraft.

Focusing on incidences alone without reference to widely available Kenyan Foreign Policy or the Draft International Trade Policy not only stifles perspectives in public discussions but also scholarship in general. Essentially our analysis is buried deep into the issues concerning proceedings or controversy surrounding the International Criminal Court (ICC) cases, internal insecurity or otherwise and regional dispute resolution as is the situation in South Sudan or Burundi. This is at the expense of expounding Kenya's general interest in the world.

The question of Kenyan leadership cannot be addressed from the point of economic dominance or 'branding' as premised by Professor Kanyinga. This is because these are the very elements that breed suspicion from our neighbors whenever presented as the Kenya's point of engagement. Kenya has to acknowledge that its relationships are interdependent in order not to convey hubris.

Whatever leadership Kenya exudes must be on the merits of our pragmatic traditions. That means actively participating on emerging issues and attaining necessary alliances for the good of the republic. In that sense it is only by exemplary actions or results in our pursuit of prosperity and progress, rather than common 'feel good' nationalistic sentiments that toy with notions of hegemony, that the country becomes Primus inter pares-first among equals.

Kenya's attainment of any prominence should therefore be earned out of respect and the camaraderie of similar achievements with international friends to ensure coexistence. This is to be done while maintaining the standing of our citizenry, territory and government throughout the world.  In that sense the country's responsibilities demand an enhancement of trade, pursuit of growth and achievement of development as an ultimate stepping stone of African continental unity.

The current administration has pronounced itself on this quite clearly on this from its manifesto and speeches by the President, his deputy and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs. However, while glaring challenges in some of these elements may reduce the standing of the country as pointed out by Professor Kanyinga, government statecraft continually projects the country as a pragmatic republic.  

In that sense the, mostly misunderstood, character of neutralism is for the sake of national and regional unity. This spurs functional integration, while spilling over into peace beyond our geopolitical sphere of influence. However, a gap is felt whenever our domestic failings are compared against perceptions of successes by our neighbors. This results in a dearth of projection that leads to intellectual neglect of ongoing statecraft.

For instance beyond rumor and innuendo our pundits have not informed the public as to what could have been the strategic value of the President Uhuru Kenyatta's decision to continue negotiations on the Central Africa Republic (CAR) peace process during the period of the Garissa attack. Neither has anyone spoken to the ramifications of the reports in The East African that President Pierre Nkurunziza only takes President Uhuru Kenyatta's phone calls. Nor is anyone to my knowledge of our public intellectuals expounding on the importance of South Africa's apology to the continent by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Especially at an event celebrating Madaraka!

Yet the Jubilee administration has now arrived at the point where it must provide a doctrine on how it wants to present itself to the world. This is considering the administration is ultimate custodian of our external relations. By hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), of which President Barrack Obama will be in attendance, the administration can begin to categorically outline the country's global outlook especially in relation to trade. Also the hosting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial later in the year would offer an opportunity to appropriate expound Kenyan external relations principles, policy, actions and strategy in terms of alliances, programs or decision making.

For instance, such an interpretation could expound precisely what Kenya means by its commitment to trade multilateralism. Such explanations should properly locate us within the competitive global order especially within the context of our consolidation of developing institutions under the new constitutional dispensation.

My point of departure from the good Professor is to look beyond the country as represented by the administration or the current challenges faced by its citizenry. More specifically it takes the broader examination of the state in which government serves as its greatest instrument while the administration serves as chief operator of this machinery. This is because such an approach goes beyond thinking of matters solely as an issue of leadership. Thereby the country moves from being locked in comparisons with our neighbors but also makes us grounded in the firm foundations of our general interests.

We must, therefore, critically examine the traditions of our pragmatic realism in foreign affairs before writing off the workings in government. Notwithstanding the considerations concerning treaty obligations and basic facts by the administration or its functionaries, thinking on statecraft objectively sheds away political sentiment or affiliation. Therefore, statecraft helps maintain Kenyan aspirations of hopefully becoming one in many examples for freedom worldwide.

* A version of this article was published in the print edition of the Saturday Nation of June 13, 2015

Leonard Wanyama, is a Programme Officer with the Society for International Development (SID) Nairobi and M.A. in International Relations from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. The views held herein are entirely his own and do not reflect the organizational position of SID.

Photo: R. to L. Presidents Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), & Pierre Nkurunziza (Burundi).