44. No tantrums – This is geopolitics!

Kap Kirwok

Saturday 27th, July 2013

The Jubilee Government’s Pan Africanist (certainly East Africanist) orientation and ambitions were evident even before inauguration day. As candidates, President Uhuru and Deputy President Ruto had separately visited Tanzania and Uganda, signalling their intention to court our East African neighbours. The playing of the East African Community Anthem at the inauguration was merely a confirmation of those intentions. Since then, the new government’s has ramped up dramatically its Pan Africanist overtures. In a mere 100 days, the President and his deputy have visited Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Congo, Gabon, Algeria and South Africa. There were also visits to Japan and United Kingdom. We will not count the forced visit to The Netherlands by the Deputy President! Even then, this translates into a foreign trip (most within Africa) every 8 days! That is simply staggering. It gives new meaning to the word peripatetic!

But what is exactly happening here? Is there an underlying geopolitical strategy? If so, what are its tenets? Cynics might point to the ICC cases as the underlying reason. If so, the near unanimous expression of support for UhuRuto and the condemnation of ICC at the last African Union Summit in Addis Ababa might be seen as the fruit of those efforts. But the fact that the visits continued even after the AU Summit suggests the new government may be determined to pursue a grand, Africa-centred foreign policy whose centrepiece includes economic diplomacy.

One hopes this is the case. And yet when you consider recent, seemingly isolated incidents and try to thread the needle, you find that our understanding of geopolitics and realpolitik is still shockingly naive. There is a worrying “us-versus-the West” visceral reaction that might not only shape our internal affairs, it could easily colour our external relations. To illustrate this, consider just two recent incidents. First, there was the decision by President Barack Obama to skip Kenya during his visit of several African countries, including our neighbour Tanzania, because of what he tactlessly called ‘issues of international justice around the ICC.’ Government supporters and ‘patriots’ reacted by boycotting the meeting of business leaders organized by the Tanzanian and US governments in Dar es Salaam. We later extended our boycott to the US Independence Day celebrations in a rather crude tit-for-tat.

Then there was the UN report accusing KDF of facilitating charcoal exports from Somalia. Charcoal, in addition to piracy, is al Shabaab’s major source of finance. The Kenya government of course dismissed the report and defended its forces against those charges. Some Kenyans see Western conspiracy in the UN report.

I must say the Western conspiracy canard has been given wings by a series of tweets by my friend Mutahi Ngunyi. Among his most provocative tweets are the following: “Synovate has given us poll results rationalizing a ‘Kenya spring’. Today, a US firm said Uhuru is already a failed president. This is a ploy.” And then there was this: “Uhuru/Ruto continue to be casual about Raila. The 2005 referendum moment for Kibaki and the 1982 coup moment for Moi, will hit them earlier.”

With more than 140, 000 followers, Ngunyi’s tweets have real wings. The tweets get re-tweeted and soon there are thousands of conspiracy believers – boiling with emotion and paranoia.

Suddenly there are allegations that one, Eliud Owalo, a senior aide to Raila Odinga, is intend on fomenting a popular uprising against the government.

Listening to ‘intelligent’ people hyperventilate emotionally about how Obama and the West want to topple the government, and why we should ‘show them who we are’ can be dispiriting. The naiveté is breath-taking.

True, we live in a real world; a world of national self-interest pursued through cloak-and-dagger activities. But as history attests, the pursuit of self-interest among nations can either be through force, clever subterfuge or, as is often the case, both. But there is a third way; it involves programmatic trade-offs, always striving for win-win outcomes. It requires clear-eyed and realistic assessment of national circumstances and deliberate pursuit of strategies to continuously strengthen its position and bargaining power.

Kenya cannot afford emotion and paranoia in the pursuit of its geopolitical goals. No tantrums either; just clear-eyed and intelligent pursuit of national strategic self-interest. There are many nations doing this successfully. Israel and Mauritius come to mind. Both punch above their weights in geopolitics and geo-economics.

Our foreign policy should be guided by enlightened engagement. We should be ready to engage any nation – guided by national self-interest – regardless of what we might think of them. Engage the West. Engage the East. Engage every nation. Put on a charm offensive.

And, by all means, let us engage African nations but let us not do it out of cheap spite for the West. We can’t afford it. Our cloak-and-dagger game is not up to scratch yet.

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