One of the most confounding aspects of Kenyan foreign policy is the fact that there is generally no official doctrine guiding the conduct of the country’s external relations or its decision making. Kenyan international relations aficionados are left to speculate on the actions of the leadership with regards to questions of economics, peace, migration, climate, and culture.
As for the citizens, there is increasing disappointment with the conduct of the country’s foreign affairs due to numerous faux pas, an unresponsive officialdom, minimal camaraderie with fellow African countries on issues, and significant dalliance with the West on issues of global concern.
Remarkably, this could be because Kenya’s current foreign policy document published in 2014 makes no mention of the word “doctrine” despite it being the guiding framework for the country’s diplomatic engagements.
Foreign policy doctrine is the overarching justification grounding the rules upon which political leadership handles situations or explains the actions of one country towards another.
Subsequently, the justifications provided, or the activities carried out in the diplomatic community, tend to confound many observers, be they local or international. For example, there are numerous interpretations of what “pragmatism” means in Kenyan foreign policy. For some, it is “a cunning and ruthless pursuit of her national goals irrespective of ideals” while for others it is mainly an “emphasis on economic considerations when tackling national challenges”, among other interpretations.
In November 2022, President William Ruto’s international relations dealings were reported in the news as both “Look East” and “Look West”, and also as the “Here and There Diplomacy” characterized by conflicting signals, questionable or controversial conduct, and poor communication.
Kenyan foreign policy proclamations and practice, therefore, contradict the country’s projection of consistency in pursuit of stability within its national, regional, continental, and global engagements even while possessing a very realist understanding of threat in its traditionalist diplomatic conduct.
This is despite attaining a “pluralist dividend” following promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. It is therefore important to recognize that an understanding of opportunities from a post-modernist context can increase the benefits of including non-state actors in Kenya’s foreign policy.
In a sense, their inclusion would infuse new ways of thinking about global power relations, increase the country’s understanding of its potential sphere of influence, encourage consideration of entities outside of officialdom, and the possibility of novel ideas in the country’s external relations.
Kenyan diplomacy in a multipolar world
Shifts in polarity within global developments seem to be a new feature of the post-COVID and post-truth world.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict, the rise of China, disruptive technology, inflationary shocks, continued troubles in the Middle East, energy challenges, inadequate growth, an unexceptional America, demographic pressures, and a strain on natural resources seem to have ushered in a multipolar world by means of force; force, in this instance, being both natural and man-made events resulting in crisis in which one disaster builds into another, making situations worse. This context of polycrisis is particularly affecting power distribution within the international system.
Shifts in polarity within global developments seem to be a new feature of the post-COVID and post-truth world.
A modernization of Kenyan foreign policy is, therefore, required to establish a transformative diplomacy that can consider new nuances, increase sophistication in negotiation, and actualize greater responsiveness in the country’s conduct of its external relations.
Kenya must begin imagining itself on its own terms instead of based on Western “exceptionalist” predetermination illustrated by, for example, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) description of the country as an “anchor state” that provides stability.
This categorization is on account of the strategic confidence Kenya offers the US based on its financial services and infrastructural connectedness that make it a “hub of its subregion”. Further, this is due to Kenya’s promotion of regional peace and security among its neighbours in tandem with US/Western interests.
However, this perspective limits Kenya’s ability to become an African exemplar state; the appropriate democratic model within its immediate sphere of influence which is primarily the East African Community (EAC) and the greater Horn of Africa region.
As such, developing a doctrine would help pursue international peace and prosperity as championed by Kenya in response to an increasingly multipolar world through a multilateralism that focuses on building profitable relations as a means to building alliances within the savanna climate countries.
Peace in the savanna equals peace in the world
Generally, Kenya’s diplomatic pillars (peace diplomacy, economic diplomacy, diaspora diplomacy, environmental diplomacy, cultural diplomacy) are captured as a list of priorities, that is, a shared common purpose with the international community as opposed to being a defined, inherent framework for the country’s global ambitions.
In this sense, Kenya identifies issues of concern, spaces for action, institutions to influence, and opportunities for collaboration without giving a clear picture or viewpoint of what a harmonious world looks like according to its national interests.
Considering its history, Kenya must, therefore, develop a doctrine that offers guidance on domestic linkages to its foreign affairs, foundations in regional integration, prospects for new diplomatic constituencies, efforts towards modernization, and responses to emerging threats – essentially, explaining the centrality of Kenyan external relations logic in building profitable relations as a means of acquiring positive and sustainable alliances that benefit the world.
Kenya’s understanding of redistributed power requires a geostrategic reorganization of its motivations for cultural, economic, military, or political distinctiveness towards making an impression on the Savanna Climate Countries.
By distinguishing The Savanna as the space within which to optimize its global footprint, Kenya will be able to deploy an “Africa plus World” strategy that will harness the maritime advantages of the Indian Ocean Rim as a portal to increased economic collaboration in trade, investment, and the development of the country.
A Pax Savanna doctrine offers the language and reasoning of a “looking worldwide” foreign policy position that searches for partnership from all corners of the globe while ending the ambiguity of historical non-alignment that makes Kenya “Look East” today and “Look West” tomorrow.
Such a construct of objectives – a policy imagination of Kenya’s place in the world – must consider the geopolitical ways and means to become a part of either the current global economic system, the emerging alternative world order or, better still, a continental renaissance architecture.
While it interacts with the Bretton Woods system, the country should consider whether it will be a part of BRICKS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, Kenya, South Africa) or BRICSEA (Brazil, Russia, India, China, Southern and Eastern Africa).
This can only be achieved if the country works in tandem with the EAC to become a fast-growing economy that can, together with the BRICS countries, participate in dominating the world by 2050. EAC members’ engagement would be on equal terms with the BRICS member countries based on their combined advantage in terms of land mass, population, and GDP.
Ultimately, through whatever promising form or formation of international politics, Kenya should seek to take up the mantle of championing African prosperity, legitimacy, and welfare both for its own benefit and for the benefit of its continental compatriots.
A Pax Savanna doctrine offers the language and reasoning of a “looking worldwide” foreign policy position.
In doing so, Kenya would provide clarity concerning its participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), its intervention in Haiti, and justifications for Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) or Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), among other actions.
Projection of influence in intergovernmental forums such as the Group of 20 (G20), the principal organisations of the United Nations (the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN Secretariat, and the Trusteeship Council) and coalitions such as the Group of 77 (G77), among others, must then be channelled towards achieving a Pax Savanna, an “Africa plus World” strategy that focuses on the Indian Ocean Rim as a theatre of specific transformational interest for Kenya.
Transformative diplomacy initiatives as rejuvenation
Non-state actors tend to be viewed or engaged with from a significant distance in Kenyan foreign policy. For instance, in and of their own right, professionals are only mentioned or acknowledged once in the entire 2014 foreign policy document.
This may be a consequence of previous clashes on questions concerning human rights as seen on issues regarding the Kenyan cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the handling of suspects in the ongoing global war on terror.
Regrettably, these lenses of contestation are similarly applied to non-state actors in a whole range of other global spaces such institutional reforms, tax governance, debt sustainability, regional integration, climate change, trade advocacy, consumer rights, gender responsiveness, non-communicable diseases, and civil protection, i.e. emergency response.
Unlike the diaspora whose geolocational and financial influence are well captured (to the point of a ministerial evolution that has seen the creation of a state department for diaspora affairs), the vast human resource experience(s) and occupational positioning outside officialdom are yet to be truly harnessed for purposes of informing the national development agenda. Experts, scholars, practitioners, and students in spaces outside established diplomatic bureaucracy are peripheral entities in Kenyan foreign affairs policymaking.
Non-state actors tend to be viewed or engaged with from a significant distance in Kenyan foreign policy.
Adopting transformation as restorative diplomatic force of interactions will therefore champion more inclusion of non-state actors or professionals in decision-making, thereby helping to move current foreign policy away from its exclusive traditions, practices, and its policymaking roots to a more productive working relationship despite the differences that may emerge from time to time.
Such an approach would encourage the Kenyan government to embrace various platforms that expand access to expertise from the wider diplomatic professional community and from among its citizens. It would offer the government the opportunity to support the inclusion of new foreign policy ideas, and avenues for contribution by non-state actors thereby ending their marginalisation.
Deliberate mapping of Kenyan citizens in academia, non-governmental organisations (international and local), staffers within various diplomatic offices in Kenya, including the United Nations, the private sector, and faith-based organisations, among others, is critical in building support and partnerships in the national interest.
Moreover, such an initiative would infuse new ideas on improving Kenya’s foreign policy through emerging institutions such as the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), National Defence University (NDU) of Kenya, and the International Relations Society of Kenya (IRSK) to build bridges across existing tensions to prevent reversals and orchestrate diplomatic transformation for the modern age.
This would serve as a means of moving beyond the simple recognition and inclusion of multiple actors in decision-making to the establishment of an “Emergence Doctrine” of “The Exemplar State” to become a force for good in Africa and the world.