Kenya's economic Diplomacy, ICC and all that

David Cameron The UK PM: 
Misreading the signs?
CONNECT THE DOTS and tell me what picture emerges. In the last four Months a flurry of events, have happened in Kenya. In early September Nigeria was given 46 oil exploration blocks in Kenya. In October, Tullow Oil, the British owned oil exploration firm that has been active in Kenya, discovering commercially viable wells almost on a monthly basis, ran into trouble with the local community. In November, Kenya’s President attends the Africa-Arab summit in Kuwait. Here the President Called on Arab-Oil Producers to help Kenya exploit her oil and LNG discoveries. Read anything? I read a warning shot to the west.

 Kenya has grown horns and is poking the soft belly of those not taking note. “Choices have consequences,” so said the Former US assistant Secretary of State, Johnny Carlson, as he appeared to warn Kenyans against voting in the Jubilee Alliance. It seems now the same logic is being applied on the West by Kenya. And the West, which is adept at misreading signals from the developing world, is misreading this one too. The message emerging is; “if you rank low in terms of economic importance to Kenya, you shall rank low diplomatically.”

This far, five diplomats from countries thought to be unfriendly, are still waiting for the President’s dairy to open up. Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Japanese Ambassadors are yet to present their accreditation Papers to President Kenyatta. Where diplomatic links are not the soft under belly, the economic card is being played with warning signals that “no country is indispensable for Kenya.”

Although most analysts link this to the West’s support for the ICC on the cases facing the Kenyan President and his deputy for allegedly financing the 200/08 post-election Violence in Kenya, that could only be a catalyst but not the cause.

Frosty relations with the West began with the first Kibaki Administration after the 2002 elections. Kenya was warming up to the east, equipping her security forces with hardware from the east. Here we are talking about vehicles. The Kenya police and military were traditionally using the British Land Rover.

However, come 2003, and they replenished the fleet using Japanese Land cruisers and other vehicles from China. That had the then British High Commissioner in Kenya, Richard Clay, hopping mad and spewing calumny against Kenya government over alleged corruption.  That did not stop the departure. Instead is motivated Clay’s departure from the British Foreign service.

Apart from refusal to buy western merchandise, Kenya also inched closer to China. Before 2003, China was ranked among other donors to Kenya because their contribution was tiny. Then China began to emerge from the shadows, gained its own rank as a development partner in Kenya and has now muscled its way to the top. So china is now a leading economic and diplomatic partner for Kenya.

 This departure to the east rankled the West who began shopping and propping their own Presidential Candidate. In 2007 the West supported Raila Odinga’s ODM party to the hilt. However, he lost to Kibaki igniting the violence for which Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto are facing the charges against Humanity in The Hague.

Some Kenyan analysts believe the West had a hand in the violence. While a report by UNDP, which was nominated by the West to Co-ordinate election observers, said that Kibaki defeated Raila by a margin of 3 percent, the British high Commissioner in Nairobi openly said they do not recognize the “Kenya government as Constituted then.”

Not only do the analysts believe that the West ignited the violence, but that it also played a part in covering up the real perpetrators of the crime. Consequently the frosty relations with Kenyan are expected to continue freezing.

Tragically, the local press appears to blind to the activities in Kenya.When the local press picked the item on delayed diplomatic accreditation, it said the delay to open diplomatic links threatens Kenya’s trade with these countries. Maybe they should have used another argument.  Trade data seen by this publication shows that the countries in question do not rank highly as destinations for Kenyan exports. Africa is the largest market for Kenyan exports. Uganda leads the pack, and even though Britain sneaks in at second place, Tanzania is not far behind. In fact, Tanzania could dethrone Britain in a short while.

The same countries too do not rank among the major origins of imports for Kenya. The top perch has been taken over by India, followed by China, UAE, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia.  Britain, the US, France, Japan and Germany rank relatively low.  But they once were the major origins of imports to Kenya and were slowly edged out during the Kibaki regime.

However, in terms of investment, Britain ranks high: Companies such as Tullow Oil have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars in oil exploration in Kenya. In addition a number of British Multinationals have pitched tent in Kenya. These include; Barclays Bank, standard Chartered Bank and Unilever group among others.

 Analysts in Nairobi say that Uhuru Kenyatta’s cold shoulder against the West, while mainly born of the case facing him and his deputy at the ICC, are just a continuation of the decade long bad blood between Kenya and the west. Unless the West watches what it is doing, say analysts, the relations could get worse. And the warning shots are in the air.

Will Kenya lose? A few people believe that line.  Already the West’s economic muscle in Kenya is insignificant. Their aid contribution is insignificant, and so is the consumption of Kenyan exports. What is significant is their exports to Kenya and to some extend their investments. So Can the West afford to antagonize Kenya to a point where the relations would collapse? Few informed people think so.

Kenya will definitely not push the relations to the brink; it will have to stop somewhere. But at that point, the west’s hold in Kenya will have been considerably weakened.


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