Four Decades of Live and Let Live
By DOMINIC ODIPO
Perhaps the easiest way to capture the evolution of Kenya’s foreign policy and international diplomacy over the last 45 years is to try and isolate what it has not tried to do. This policy has not tried to convert the rest of the East African region to Nairobi’s political or economic ideology. It has not tried to expand this country’s geographical space at the expense of its neighbors. It has not tried to exploit or steal its neighbours’ natural resources using military force. And it has not deliberately tried to dominate the East African region either politically oreconomically. As a consequence, Kenya has had no international radio service daily spewing out political or economic propaganda acrossthe region. It has not deployed any of its military contingents in any neighboring countries to plunder foreign natural resources. And it has not unleashed special plenipotentiaries to plead the case for a Greater Kenya on the world stage. A close but detached analysis of Kenya’s foreign policy over the last 45 years leaves little doubt that this policy has, in the main, been both benign and well-meaning even if, on occasion, it has been both wrongheaded and rather shabbily executed. If any four words can capture the essence of Kenya’s foreign policy and international relations since independence in 1963, they would be these:Live and Let Live. Over the years, Nairobi has tried to undertake its core business without trampling on the interests of its neighbors or other states beyond its borders. When it has lost this path, it has generally done so in the selfish interest of a few of its leaders, not the nation as a whole.
When the UN General Assembly voted on December 15 1972 to locate the headquarters of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, it was a singular triumph for Kenya’s delicate but extremely effective diplomacy. With the final vote of 128 in favour, none against and with no abstentions, Kenya’s international diplomacy had borne the ripest of its fruits within only nine years of Independence. Along the way, Nairobi had somehow beaten New Delhi and Tunis to host the UNEP headquarters and reversed the initial negative votes cast by both the United States and Britain. This diplomatic triumph was formally sealed on March 20, 1975, when the new foreign minister, Dr Munywa Waiyaki, formally signed the agreement basing UNEP in Nairobi. In the mid-1970s, with its newfound international stature, Kenya stepped haltingly into peacemaking diplomacy. The three warring principals of the Angolan civil war came to Nakuru to put their heads together under the chairmanship of President Kenyatta. It was a historic occasion broadcast all over theworld. Kenya had arrived on the international diplomatic stage and so had its foreign minister, Dr Waiyaki.
But it was Kenya ’s relations with apartheid South Africa that dominated the end of the 1970s. How was Kenya to relate to the apartheid regime; should it open known. Now enter the 1980s, perhaps the darkest chapter in the history of Kenya’s foreign and international relations. After the attempted coup d’etat of August, 1982, Nairobi turned increasingly inwards and the emphasis shifted to the preservation of President Daniel arap Moi’s regime. No foreign policies or initiatives which threatened the status quo could be entertained. Those who opposed the regime, whether local or foreign, were labelled enemies of the country, not just of the President or the State. During this period, only the most loyal of Moi’s cronies were given a chance to serve as foreign ministers and principal spokesmen. The list of the ministers who served in this period is long and revealing. It begins with Dr. Robert Ouko and ends with Major (Rtd) Marsden Madoka, and includes Elijah Mwangale, Dr Zachary Onyonka, Wilson Ndolo Ayah, Kalonzo Musyoka Dr. Bonaya Godana and Chris Obure. During this cultivate period the international diplomatic profile which Kenya had under Dr Waiyaki steadily disappeared.
During this period, only the most loyal of Moi’s cronies were given a chance to serve as foreign ministers and principal spokesmen. The list of the ministers who served in this period is long and revealing. It begins with Dr. Robert Ouko and ends with Major (Rtd) Marsden Madoka, and includes Elijah Mwangale, Dr Zachary Onyonka, Wilson Ndolo Ayah, Kalonzo Musyoka Dr. Bonaya Godana and Chris Obure. During this cultivate period the international diplomatic profile which Kenya had under Dr Waiyaki steadily disappeared.
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