Connect with us

Politics & Policy

Uhuru Kenyatta failed to turn Kenya into as big an international player as he could – here’s why



Former President of Kenya

One of the notable achievements of Uhuru Kenyatta’s nine-year tenure as president was that he invigorated Kenya’s foreign policy.

By Wilfred Nasong’o Muliro – The Conversion

A year after his 2013 inauguration, his government launched a document that outlined Kenya’s diplomatic engagements and foreign relations. It was the country’s first written foreign policy since independence.

Its themes can be distilled into four objectives and practices: regional and continental cooperation; promoting Kenya’s economic interests; the revival of pan-Africanism; and an aggressive approach to foreign policy, including a plethora of high-level visits.

It was indeed a dynamic performance.

Nevertheless, in my view, based on the country’s mixed outcomes and foreign policy losses, it’s evident that the Kenyatta government’s foreign policy was not focused, consistent, or effectively coordinated. Consequently, it failed to create a regional balance of power favourable to Kenya’s interests.


And while the country became more visible globally and actively engaged in international matters, the returns from this visibility have been dismal – save for an increased debt burden.

Regional and continental cooperation

In the 2014 Kenya Foreign Policy document, Kenyatta affirmed that Kenya would seek to promote sub-regional and regional integration.

In his inauguration speech in 2013, he said his government would strengthen regional ties through the free movement of people, goods and investment. He underscored the importance of deepening relations with the East African Community and Africa as a whole to:

deliver on the promise of independence and liberation from our colonial past.

However, critics faulted Kenyatta for using a pan-African approach to overcome the initial global isolation and non-receptiveness Kenya faced from traditional allies like Britain and the US. This chilly reception from the UK and US followed Kenyatta’s election as president despite his facing an International Criminal Court (ICC) case.

As a result, the president’s policy on global politics retracted to operating through the continental body, the African Union.


Kenya became an active contributor to the union’s programmes. In 2014, the country gave US$1.1 million to support the African World Heritage Fund.

In 2015, Kenyatta was elected the chairperson of the African Peer Review Mechanism. This is a voluntary assessment and monitoring system that evaluates and advises African Union member states on their progress in achieving good governance.

Moreover, Kenya was among the countries that contributed troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia.

Despite all this activity, Kenyatta failed to effectively exert influence and drive regional integration to Kenya’s advantage.


A notable element in Kenya’s foreign policy under Kenyatta was the renaissance of pan-Africanism. In his first address to the African Union Summit in 2013, he said:


Pan-Africanism has sparked a Kenyan renaissance.

The president said he had received tutelage on pan-Africanism from his father, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president.

Arguably, this pan-African reinvigoration into Kenya’s foreign policy was motivated by the existential threats of global sanctions that the regime faced. Yet, Kenyatta’s election against the backdrop of the cases at The Hague turned Kenya into an icon of resistance following what was perceived as the unfair targeting of Africa by the ICC.

During Kenyatta’s inauguration, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni praised Kenyans for rejecting western neo-colonialism. This was in reference to calls by diplomats that Kenyans should not elect people with cases to answer at the ICC.

The African Union convened an extraordinary summit that declared support for Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who was also facing charges at The Hague.

Economic interests

Kenyatta’s foreign policy of economic prosperity was pursued and achieved via a triple approach.


First was through encouraging trade ties with traditional allies like the UK, US and some countries in western Europe. Second was through a diversification of economic relations to include new markets in the form of a “look east” policy.

Third was through emphasising intra-African trade. Kenya signed trade agreements with states not considered traditional allies, such as Nigeria and Ghana. Additionally, the country quickly signed the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement in March 2018.

But questions have arisen on whether Kenya has the financial capacity to meet present and future economic obligations.

Assertive foreign policy

Kenya hosted a wide range of high-level international meetings. Subjects ranged from climate change to trade. Kenyatta also received high-level delegations reminiscent of former president Daniel Moi’s era. His guests included the pope and leaders of India, Israel, US, UK, China and Japan.

From Africa, Kenyatta hosted leaders from Ghana, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Rwanda, among many others.


By July 2022, a month to the election that would end his term in office, Kenyatta had made 158 official foreign trips. In contrast, his predecessor Mwai Kibaki made just 33 foreign trips over 10 years of leadership.

The country’s foreign policy during Kenyatta’s second term, which began in 2017, is what I would describe as aggressive or assertive. The country took advantage of any international opportunity that arose to make its mark.

In February 2022, Kenya addressed a UN Security Council meeting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Its envoy to the UN, Martin Kimani, came out strongly in defence of Ukraine. He stated that the Charter of the United Nations was fading due to “the relentless assault of the powerful”. Kimani compared Ukraine’s plight to Africa’s colonial legacy.

Kenya’s aggressive foreign policy direction earned Kenya a seat at the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member.

But this aggressive foreign policy also portrayed Kenya as a nation that “wants everything”. This earned it some opposition regionally. For instance, states like Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, and Tanzania didn’t vote for Kenya in its bid to chair the African Union Commission.


Kenyatta should have streamlined his priorities and made his foreign objectives sharper so as not to appear to be a “Jack of all trades” in foreign affairs. Many foreign interests were projected with little coordination; few were accomplished.

In some cases, the country’s goodwill was squandered in the pursuit of self-interest.

What next?

The post-Kenyatta government needs to fast-track the realisation of East African Community objectives. It needs to support South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s active participation in regional integration. The new Ruto regime should also maintain a non-disruptive relationship with Rwanda and Tanzania.

In the Horn of Africa, Kenya needs to diplomatically endeavour to reduce Ethiopia’s growing influence in the leadership of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Under Kenyatta, Kenya’s foreign policy practice within the African Union was more “lone ranger”. The Ruto regime will need to forge closer ties with regional powers like Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa to make it easier for Kenya to push through its agenda at the African Union.


It will also need to renegotiate its foreign debts and re-examine Kenya-China agreements to re-organise debt repayments.




Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Politics & Policy

OPINION | Kenya is poised to become the ‘Singapore of Africa’



Nairobi City at night
Of all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa to be optimistic about, the most promising is Kenya. Economic and political forces are converging to put the continent’s seventh-largest nation in a relatively favorable position.

Africa is the fastest-growing continent and is expected to account for one-quarter of the world’s population by 2050. That means more multinational corporations see a need to have a direct presence somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Many such companies already realise they need a presence in Asia, with Singapore proving increasingly popular as the hub, especially as Hong Kong has been absorbed into communist China.

Where in Africa might such a comparable cluster of companies evolve? Unfortunately, some of Africa’s leading nations have experienced major troubles lately. Economic growth has slowed in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the country has only begun to make much-needed reforms; Ethiopia, the second-most populous country, just went through a civil war; political problems and power shortages continue to plague South Africa. For the time being, those places are not in the running to be a dominant sub-Saharan economic hub, if only because ex-pats will be reluctant to move there.

In contrast, a locale with a reasonable level of English fluency and an attractive year-round climate will get a lot of attention — and that nicely describes Kenya. Kenya also had a growth rate of about 5.5% last year, despite negative shocks to the prices of imported food and energy. Since 2004, growth rates have been in the range of 4% to 5%.

Kenya also has some geographic advantages. It has an extensive coastline on the Indian Ocean, and research suggests that landlocked countries have worse economic performance. Countries with a coast also find it easier to stay in touch with the rest of the world, and Kenya has relatively easy access to China and India, large markets and sources of capital. In the current geopolitical climate, East Africa is attracting more interest from more sources than is most of West Africa.

In terms of scale, Kenya’s population of about 57 million cannot compete with Nigeria’s 222 million. But East Africa, with almost 500 million people, has a larger population than West Africa.

Tanzania, just to the south of Kenya, has a larger population than Kenya. But Kenya is much wealthier and has a superior infrastructure — and that includes the digital infrastructure, as internet access in Kenya is ranked among the most reliable in Africa.


To the extent the world focuses more on green energy, Kenya also has a positive story to tell. The country already has more than 80% renewable energy, and the climate is ideal for an ongoing expansion of solar power. Foreign companies looking to boost their green reputations might find Kenya an attractive destination. That said, expensive energy — due in part to taxes and poor regulation — has been a growth drawback.

There are other elements of the case against Kenya. It has had difficulty attracting foreign direct investment, even compared to other African nations. Corruption, regulatory barriers to entry, and political instability remain concerns and cannot be dismissed lightly.

That said, Kenyan governance has been stable as of late, and the 2022 election went relatively well. The government is proving more adept at preventing major terror attacks, often coming from groups in Somalia. As Kenya becomes wealthier, there is a good chance those problems will diminish further.

It is also possible that sub-Saharan Africa will not develop a single dominant corporate hub at all. The United Arab Emirates will continue to evolve into Africa’s financial center, Lagos will have the most startup activity, South Africa will remain the dominant business center in the South — and London, Beijing, and India will play more important roles in Africa’s economic future.

Still, African distances are great and its population is growing, two simple facts that argue for Kenyan growth no matter what. The idea of putting a manufacturing plant or service center near Nairobi or Mombasa makes sense even if it serves only East Africa. Kenya’s immediate neighbors to the west and south, Tanzania and Uganda, also have an English-language background, and Tanzania may become one of the world’s most populous countries.


Not only is Africa rising, but East Africa is too. And Kenya is likely to be the easiest and most predictable way to bet on it.

Story by Tyler Cowen – a Bloomberg columnist.


Continue Reading

Banking & Microfinance

Supreme Court of Kenya Dismisses Investors Bid Seeking Ksh 465 million from Billionaire Jimnah Mbaru’s Firm



Businessman Jimnah Mbaru

An investor’s bid to have Dyer & Blair Investment Bank, owned by Jimnah Mbaru, pay him Sh465 million has been rejected by the Supreme Court. John Kung’u Kiarie, a former KCB director, alleged that Mbaru’s firm conspired with the anti-fraud unit to freeze his money two decades ago and later under-declared his investment returns.

The Court of Appeal dismissed his application for a second appeal to the apex court, stating that the issues raised by the investor were limited to his personal interests. The judges noted that the matters raised were connected to his business relationship with the investment bank and the resulting dispute.

“Justices Daniel Musinga, Hellen Omondi, and Imaana Laibuta ruled that there were no issues of general public importance involved, nor were there any novel legal issues that needed determination by the Supreme Court,” as per the ruling.

According to the law, appeals at the Supreme Court typically involve matters of public importance or interest. In Mr. Kiarie’s case, he had invested Sh91 million with the brokerage firm in March 2003 to purchase a Treasury bond but received a paper worth Sh88 million instead.

Upon the advice of the investment bank, Mr. Kiarie sold the security for Sh91.6 million to invest in a new Treasury bond with a higher yield. However, before the plans could be realized, his banker, CfC Stanbic, received warrants allowing the Anti-Banking Fraud Unit to investigate his account.

As a result, his account was frozen, and Mr. Kiarie was charged with falsely obtaining Sh91.5 million before a magistrate court in Nairobi. Subsequently, he was acquitted due to lack of evidence, and an order was issued to lift the freeze on his money and the associated interest.


Mr. Kiarie claimed that Dyer & Blair later released Sh67.5 million as the principal amount, along with an additional Sh2.3 million in interest. Mr. Kiarie initially sued Dyer & Blair and CfC Stanbic in 2009, alleging collusion to deprive him of his Sh91.5 million investment.

In a ruling, High Court judge Eric Ogolla found in favor of Mr. Kiarie and directed the brokerage firm and the bank to pay him Sh310 million. However, in July 2017, the Court of Appeal overturned the decision. The appellate court ruled that the investment bank had not participated in the criminal case and therefore did not have the opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Kiarie’s general manager regarding the evidence provided.

The court nullified the damages assessment and the applied interest and instead directed that Mr. Kiarie be paid an amount equivalent to the returns he could have earned from the investment in treasury bonds for one year, minus the brokerage firm’s commission and annual fees.

Mr. Kiarie was unsatisfied and sought to escalate the matter to the Supreme Court. Mr. Mbaru opposed the application, stating that he had complied with the court’s judgment and that Mr. Kiarie had accepted the payment and interest provided.

Continue Reading

Politics & Policy

Kenya Demonstrations: What Does Kenya’s Odinga Want?



Former Kenyan Prime Minister - Raila Amollo Odinga
Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga addresses supporters where he called for mass action against high cost of living , Nairobi, March 9, 2023.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has a playbook he turns to when he loses an election. He calls supporters onto the streets until he’s given a share of power.

By Antony Sguazzin

This week was no different but it’s unclear whether President William Ruto will yield.

The March 20 protests led to one death and the closing of shops and schools. By piggybacking his demand for the 2022 election loss to Ruto to be overturned with discontent over the cost of living, he ensured a turnout.

His election demand is unlikely to be met. The 78-year-old has run for president five times and lost five times. A Supreme Court that’s proved its independence before by nullifying an election result dismissed his petition.

Odinga’s backers including former justice minister and 2022 running mate, Martha Karua, insist they won and want an audit to try and prove


Now, Odinga says, protests will be held every Monday and Thursday until he gets his way.

There are precedents.

Violence after the disputed 2007 election forced then-President Mwai Kibaki to appoint Odinga as prime minister and in 2018 the threat of a
redux of that disruption saw President Uhuru Kenyatta extend to him an olive branch.

Odinga’s actions “show that there isn’t really respect for the election process,” said Zaynab Mohamed, an analyst at Oxford Economics Africa.
His tactics risk unraveling the progress Kenya has made, she added.

In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned Kenyatta’s victory and ordered a rerun and last year’s vote was less divided along ethnic lines than previously. That’s a far cry from the violence in the 2007 election that saw more than 1,500 killed and 300,000 made homeless and two decades of
repression under Daniel Arap Moi, whose cabinet Odinga once joined.

There’s little appetite to return to those days.

Continue Reading


Verified by MonsterInsights