KIBII: Ruto's foreign policy mess: Communication is the problem

CSs such as Kuria and Mutua have made remarks that have fed into the idea that there's incoherence.

In Summary

• While Ruto had initially signaled a Look West foreign policy orientation, or so it was thought, recent engagements with Russia, Iran and China sent different signals. 

• The directive that missions in Nairobi may communicate directly with MDAs without going through the Ministry of Foreign has not helped the situation.



KIBII: Ruto's foreign policy mess is due to Communication is the problem

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua (C) addresses the media in Nairobi on July 19, 2023.
COMMUNICATION: Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua (C) addresses the media in Nairobi on July 19, 2023.

President William Ruto has since his swearing-in in September made contact with various Kenyan friends at the international level bilaterally and multilaterally.  

Within that period, the Spanish, the Italians, the Japanese, Germans, Russians, British, Iranians and the Chinese have visited either through state visits or tours of the respective Foreign Affairs ministers. 

The Kenya-EU Business Forum was hosted in Nairobi in February, while in July, Kenya hosted the African Union's fifth Mid-Year Coordination meeting.

The President has participated in various continental forums, amplifying his pan-Africanism narrative. He has pushed this in other global forums with the West, discussing international financial architecture.  

While Ruto had initially signalled a Look West foreign policy orientation, or so it was thought, recent engagements with Russia, Iran and China send different signals. 

But he then did not attend the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, instead saying he would be represented by organs of the AU. 

His spokesman Hussein Mohamed said the decision aligned with the stance of African heads of state and government, who believe that for Africa to engage in meaningful discussions with global partners, partnership summits organised by external parties need to be reviewed to establish an effective framework for AU partnerships. 

It, however, seemed not all leaders share this position. Leaders such as Uganda President Yoweri Museveni attended, further demonstrating national interest take precedence, if the Kampala-Moscow relationship is anything to go by. 

I digress. 

It is on Citizen TV's News Gang show that I first heard of "Ruto's Here and There diplomacy". 

And Jamila Mohamed asked some questions I took note of: One, is Kenya's foreign policy incoherent and lacking form because of our own politics? Is it about what works and not works or what is it grounded on? Is it based on ideals or is it just being driven by trade?  

Kenya has had five presidents and each of the past four had a particular orientation in how they engaged internationally.  

But Prof Maria Nzomo and Winnie Rugutt in their article," What Lies Ahead for Kenyan Foreign Policy: 2022-2027," observe that, since Independence, Kenya's national interests have largely remained unchanged.

They have mainly focused on sovereignty and national security; economy and development; and regional stability, peace and security.  

Kenya has also been a key participant in global affairs, getting involved in global concerns and emergent issues such as peace and stability, terrorism, economy, technology and innovation as well as climate change.  

However due to the international and regional situations and the circumstances at hand, as well as the incumbent president, each of the administrations prioritised differently the aforementioned national interests and aligned differently at the international level in bid to achieve and protect Kenya's interests. What often changes are the priorities with the change of the administration. 

Policy as a term denotes planning that in turn suggests step by step procedure towards a known and defined goal.  

Foreign policy as the strategy pursued by a state in its dealings with other countries consists of three elements. The first is the overall orientation and policy intention of one state towards another; the second is the objective the state seeks to achieve in its relations with other countries and the third are the means of achieving those objectives.   

So, for Ruto administration, the President has been that clear his agenda is to fix the economy through the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda. Has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed a strategic guide to align this agenda with foreign policy priorities?

Former Nigerian diplomat Prof George Obiozor, now deceased, observed that foreign policy boils down to how and why a nation state sets particular goals, orders its own governmental policy making machinery, utilises that machinery, own human and natural resources to compete with other states at the international arena.   

Here is where the problems seem to be: The machinery, the human resource and communication of the Kenya Kwanza Administration foreign policy priorities.

A review of their manifesto indicates the administration's activities are in line with the highlighted four key pillars: Economic and commercial diplomacy, positive influence, diaspora engagement and global citizenship.  

On economic diplomacy, KK committed to "leveraging our international engagements to create opportunities for our citizens, businesses, and investors". 

It aimed at expanding market for Kenyan goods and services through the Regional Economic Communities of EAC, Comesa, the African Continental Free Trade Area and IGAD. Efforts in this regard can be seen, particularly through the Trade and Investment docket. 

On what it termed as "positive influence", that's using Kenya’s role as an anchor state to strengthen its voice in local, continental and global affairs, President Ruto has continued to lead efforts to advance regional stability and peace, aid global initiatives to counteract violent extremism, and cooperate with other countries as a reliable ally in dealing with regional crises such as in the DRC, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. 

On Diaspora engagement, which was intended to unlock the full potential of Kenyans living overseas, the creation of a dedicated state department seems to have provided a foundation to better engage the Kenyan diaspora in addressing their issues. 

To the extent the administration has facilitated their investments locally and included them in the development and execution of policy is not known yet.  

On global citizenship, which entails supporting the work and decisions of international organisations that Kenya has joined or ratified, KK said its foreign policy would have a more pan-Africanist stance, placing more focus on causes that improve the situation of Africans worldwide.  

"We will not only deepen our bonds with our long-standing international and bilateral partners, including the US, the EU the UK, China, and India, but we will also extend our friendship to anyone with whom we believe a mutually beneficial relationship can be formed," the manifesto said. 

This appears to be what the President is doing. How it is broken down and communicated seems to be the challenge. 

It was UDA secretary general Cleophas Malala who recently said a lot was being done by government but is not going out. He urged ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo to hasten the appointment of a government spokesperson. Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua echoed the concerns, only that he placed that responsibility on the CSs. 

But again, some of the CSs such as Kuria and even Alfred Mutua have made remarks that fed into policy incoherence  and the confusion. Take for example remarks on the ongoing Sudan crisis, the China Square and the Canadian jobs. 

In many other jurisdictions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has a spokesperson, usually a career diplomat. The last two Ethiopian ambassadors to Kenya, for example, became MFA spokespersons.  

The immediate former China Foreign Affairs Minister Qin Gang was at some point the spokesperson. This might be a consideration the ministry might want to make, preferably a career diplomat with institutional memory. 

The March directive "in the interest of efficiency" that missions in Nairobi may communicate directly with Ministries, Departments and Agencies without going through the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs has not helped the situation. Some functions were also transferred to the DP.

“Requests of meetings of cross-cutting nature and that involve more than one ministry, it is advised that such requests should be made through the Office of the Deputy President for coordination purposes".

Some career diplomats at MFA didn't approve of these directives as it was feared it would be a protocol nightmare. In any case, it can directly be linked to the  uncontrolled and uncoordinated foreign travels the highest leadership is complaining about. 

For efficiency, better option was to enhance the human resource capacity of the ministry and its missions. Today, key diplomatic postings have not had substantive ambassadors for months, some even years. 

It has been said foreign policymaking and formulation is a multi-faceted tug of war between different and often diametrically opposed bureaucrats, leaders, interest groups, public opinion and emotions and often presidents when they come to power because of their interests and legacy, among other personality-centred factors. That, however, needs not derail and soil Kenya's interests.

Most importantly, the communication needs to be a little more tidy.

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