Provocative Kenyan neighbours-Cocktail of diplomacy tests await President Kenyatta


Remember the tongue-in-cheek remark by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni at Kasarani Stadium on April 9? Do you recall him asking President Uhuru Kenyatta at his inauguration to stop the people of West Pokot from stealing his cattle?

That statement might have come out as a joke to arouse laughter in the stadium, but it represents a feather-weight approach to some weighty matters in the relations between East African nations.

From afar, East Africa looks like a diplomatically stable region where all nations are at peace with each other and regional integration upheld and respected. On closer scrutiny, the situation is not what it seems like.

There is Kenya at the centre, exposed to different kinds of provocation by its neighbours, in both subtle and open ways. One of them is the unannounced economic war-fare in the region that places Kenya at the centre due to its strategic economic positioning in the region.

The other is the real threat to the country’s sovereignty through external aggression.

During the 10 years of President Mwai Kibaki’s leadership, Kenya conceded a series of diplomatic goals owing to the beneath the surface aggression by some of its neighbours.

Because the former president preferred silence when the sovereignty of the country was put to test, President Kenyatta now faces the challenge to re-assert Kenya’s defence capabilities while at the same time keeping the relations with the neighbours above board.

We review some of issues that are likely to test the president’s diplomatic capabilities:

South Sudan

Capital: Juba

Currency: South Sudan Pound

Population: 10.3 million (2011) World Bank

President: Salva Kiir

Government: Republic

Official language: English

This is more than just a neighbour to Kenya. The country was birthed in Kenya and they are thankful for that fact. In some of the states in South Sudan like Northern Bahr el Ghazal, there are roads named Machakos and streets called Naivasha. The number of Kenyans in that country are significant.

When the country seceded from the greater Sudan, the joy was both for Kenyans and for the South Sudanese. Since then, and even during the days of John Garang, the relationship between the two countries has been warm.

There is what can be termed are transfer of development from Kenya into that country. Professionals like doctors, teachers, engineers and architects from Kenya walk the streets of Juba, passing their skills while helping the country set up. Others like business people and semi-skilled labour providers also moved to South Sudan in droves.

But reports that come out of that country in terms of how the locals treat Kenyan who live and work there is not pleasing. Isolated cases that have been reported in the media include a woman who was shot for walking as the country’s national flag was being lowered, and a pharmacist who was beaten to death for not possessing a permit. But listening to Kenyans who have been there, one gets the feeling that a lot more happen that never get to be reported.

During the tenure of President Mwai Kibaki, little came in the form of a committed response from either the Kenya government or the South Sudan government. The two countries may be dependent on each other, but the wanton loss of lives should not be entertained.

One way or another, the diplomatic ties between the two countries have to be revisited, especially with reference to the security of Kenyans living and working in South Sudan. It would be a relief for the Kenyan families here to know that their kins are safe in South Sudan and are protected by both governments, just as the South Sudanese in Kenya are.


Capital: Addis Ababa

Currency: Ethiopian Birr

Population: 84.7 million (2011) World Bank

Prime Minister: Hailemariam Desalegn

Official language: Amharic

Government: Federal Republic

Last year, more than 32 people, including police officers, died in Northern Kenya following what was reported as a cattle rustling activity of raiders from the Turkana and Samburu communities.

It is not only the raid that caught the attention of people. The arms used during the raid were a revelation.

Upon investigation, it was realised that many of the small arms in that region came from Ethiopia across the border.

In 2005, authorities arrested eleven Ethiopian bandits who were accused of having taken part in the massacre of about 80 people including children, in Marsabit’s Turbi village. The situation is made worse by the presence of the Oromo Liberation Front fighters from Ethiopia, who frequently get the blame whenever gunmen cross the border to commit atrocities In Kenya’s northern villages and then cross back.

Perennial Security threat

The situation of the Kenyan communities in the affected regions, such as the Rendile, is made worse by the incessant mission of the Kenyan government of trying to disarm them. Once they have been disarmed, the bandits from Ethiopia raid them, leaving a trail of death and blood behind.

Perhaps the government under President Kenyatta will have to come up with a new way of handling the porous borders, or seek to solve the matter in the boardroom through diplomatic talks with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who represented Ethiopia during Kenyatta inauguration ceremony.

Whatever they do, the question of raiders from the country posing a perennial security threat to Kenyans in the northern border towns and the proliferation and movement of small arms in the region will need a viable solution.


Capital: Kampala

Currency: Ugandan shilling

President: Yoweri Museveni

Population: 34.5 million (2011) World Bank

Official language: English and Kiswahili Language

Government: Republic

Uganda has time and time again tried to chisel out parts of Kenya, or openly provoke the country into a military affront.

When President Jomo Kenyatta was in power, Milton Obote, then Uganda’s Head of State, tried to move military hardware through Kenya without the notification and permission of the Kenyan government. Obote is the same man who in 1969 had ordered an en masse removal of Kenyans from Uganda. The result was a swift action by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the same action that Idi Amin got for merely stating that a section of Rift Valley formed part of Uganda. “Not an inch of our land will be ceded to Uganda,” the founding president had said. That was also the response when claims about parts of Rift Valley were made by Uganda. He proceeded to mount a display of force by ordering a military and GSU parade at the border.

During the era of Daniel Moi, the Ugandans were at it again. This time, under the leadership of Museveni, Ugandan soldiers walked into the Western border of Kenya. The response from Moi was immediate and conclusive. He sent military personnel to patrol the region.

Things changed when Kibaki got into power. Uganda sent its security personnel to control Migingo Island in Lake Victoria. The island had been inhabited by Kenyan fishermen. The row over Migingo Island was an open aggression on Kenya during the tenure of president Kibaki. Aside from organising for surveyors to verify on which side of the border the island lied, the president did not offer any resolute solution to the problem.

This is one diplomatic hot stick that President Uhuru Kenyatta will have to deal with and the various unsavoury remarks by President Museveni against Luo’s and Pokots. “Wajaluo are mad…” he once said as the Migingo row intensified. “Hakuna mjaluo atavua samaki (no Luo will fish in this water)” he had threatened then.


Capital: Dodoma

Currency: Tanzanian Shilling

Population: 46.2 million (2011) World Bank

President: Jakaya Kikwete

Official language: Kiswahili and English

Government: Republic

Kenya and Tanzania have for a long time enjoyed a cool association. Cool in the sense that there has been little if any direct aggression between the two. The relationship is one that is somewhat indifferent and curiously competitive.

The competitive part has been caused by what analysts have called a cold diplomatic feud, especially in the area of economic supremacy.

Many of the  hurdles that the East African Community (EAC) has faced as a regional economic bloc has come from the reluctance by Tanzanian negotiators.

Whispers from those in the know suggest that they have misgivings about opening up their resources to Kenyans.

Fears about land ownership

Knowing the quick nature of Kenyans and their highly adaptive business sense, the Tanzanians have time and again expressed their fears about land ownership by foreigners and the possibility of not being able to survive business competition with Kenyans, even in their own economy.

The EAC has been working towards opening up the borders of the member countries and a possible common currency. Out of all the East African states, Tanzania has been the most reluctant about the intricate issues at hand.

It could be that they have legitimate concerns. The question is, can President Uhuru Kenyatta warm up the cold relationship between Kenya and Tanzania?

Capital: Mogadishu

President: Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud

Population: 9.5 million (2011) World Bank

Currency: Somali shilling

Official language: Somali and Arabic

Government: Republic

In 1992, the United States of America led a military incursion into Somalia. It was supported by the UN. Their aim was to bring back sanity and improve humanitarian conditions there “by all means necessary.” The operation did not go as desired. Captured US soldiers were treated in humiliating inhuman ways.

In the past six years, a lot has happened between Kenya and Somalia. But even before that, the two countries had a working relationship.

To many, Kenya is like the big brother of Somalia, stepping in to help to put together a leadership structure to the point of even accommodating their leaders in the country.

But something changed. Somalia became a breeding ground for militant groups, notably the Al-Shabaab and sea pirates.

Vessels have been taken over by pirates while on route to Kenya. Tourists have been picked while enjoying the sun and mooshine at the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu. Kenya reacted, and some of the terrorist acts have been committed in the city, Garissa and other parts of the country have been seen as direct acts of retaliation by the Al-Shabaab after former president Mwai Kibaki ordered a military incursion into Somalia to disable the group.

The move by Kenya was welcomed by both UN and USA. The operation was successful to a large extent, but the actions of the Al-Shabaab cannot be wished away. President Kenyatta has to come up with a strategy for handling the small but critical problem of coming up with a respectable working relations with Somalia.





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