Sunday, October 12, 2008



OCTOBER 12, 2008

By Abdulahi Ahmednasir

The cargo aboard the Ukrainian ship held by pirates off the coast of Somalia poses twin challenges to the Government.

First it brings to the fore the credibility gap the Government faces both locally and regionally for its role in procuring arms for the South Sudan Government, probably at a commission.

Apart from Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula and Government spokesman Alfred Mutua, not many Kenyans believe the arms belong to Kenya.

Second, it shows the lack of accountability on the part of Government officials and the impunity they act with. The issues vividly underscore the glaring absence of an enlightened foreign policy and show how the same can unsettle a historic peace project the taxpayer invested in.

The pertinent issue is whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has evolved into a mere protocol department that facilitates foreign travel for Kenyan officials and navigates the immigration process for visiting dignitaries.

A national audit is probably long overdue to establish whether the problem is a temporal leadership challenge or a bigger systemic institutional failure.

With little substance in terms of foreign policy espousal and national interest articulation, is it fair for the Foreign Ministry, with an annual budget of about Sh4 billion, to concentrate only on its mundane ceremonial role?

It is now official. According to an interview conducted by Time with a high-ranking official of the South Sudan Government, the cargo aboard the Mv Faina belongs to his government. He is quoted as saying "I know they [the tanks] belong to us, South Sudan. There was a deal between the SPLA and the Kenyan Government that they will facilitate everything".

This interview undermines the explanation by Wetang’ula that the arms belong to Kenya. It is also an indictment of the Government and shows the haphazard nature of its interactions with its neighbours and the absence of a foreign policy that informs its decisions.

Former President Moi had some regional achievements. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the Sudan Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) remains one of Kenya’s rare foreign policy achievements.

According to the CPA neither North nor South Sudan is allowed to rearm in the period before the 2011 referendum to determine the status of South Sudan.

The foreign policy of any government is a set of values or beliefs that guides a country’s interaction with other countries.

It takes cognisance of that country’s political, economic, social and military interests to advance those ideals.

Poor standing

A country takes a reductive or essentialist approaches to guide its policy on the international plane and maximise its influence.

Foreign policy, especially its broader outlines, are set by the president depending on his or her broad thinking and strategic conceptualisation of his or her place in world affairs and that of the country.

The Foreign Minister, again depending on one’s stature and understanding of global issues, shapes the president’s views. In some countries, Parliament plays an oversight role in foreign policy issues.

A major factor that underscores our poor standing both regionally and internationally is that historically the Government rarely appoints a Foreign Minister of good stature. In the last 30 years, we had had only Robert Ouko, Bonaya Godana and Kalonzo Musyoka as Foreign ministers with stature and good standing.

The rest were dwarfs of politicians who were principally appointed out of temporal expedient political imperatives, ill equipped to advance the strategic interests of the country.

It is difficult to imagine President Kibaki formulating what could be referred to as the Kibaki doctrine. It is even more difficult to imagine that any of the three ministers he appointed could do better.

To date, Kenyans don’t know the foreign policy of this regime. Kenya has huge stakes regionally and internationally. In the region, we played pivotal roles in the Sudan peace deal and the reconstitution of Somalia.

In both, we invested prestige and resource in ensuring we achieved certain strategic goals. In the former, our current role in facilitating the rearming of the South Sudan undermines these achievements. In the Somalia peace process, despite being the host country, we were spectators.

There exists a huge lacuna within the Foreign Ministry. There is need for an urgent conceptualisation of an enlightened foreign policy that defines issues dear to Kenya.

We must move from the old school that defines the role of the foreign office as one preoccupied with rebuking foreign envoys or rebutting the suggestive reforms they make. We must rethink the role of the Foreign Ministry and recast it.

Foreign policy is premised on ideals, principles and beliefs. For instance, what foreign policy ideals inform the close relationship Kenya has lately developed with Libya? Or, like the rearming of South Sudan, is our interaction with Libya based on underhand deals and personal profit?