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ISS and HSF Seminar Report: Kenya`s Foreign Policy and Geostrategic interests
Date: 10 May 2012
Venue: , ISS Nairobi, Conference Room, Braeside Gardens, Lavington 
Gitanga, Off Muthangari Road
, Nairobi, 



Seminar Report: Kenya`s Foreign Policy and Geostrategic interests: Reconsidering the Somalia Intervention and Kenya`s Role in Regional Geopolitics.

Organised by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Nairobi, at ISS Nairobi Seminar Room, 10 May 2012


The rehatting of Kenyan troops into African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) comes several months after Kenya`s intervention in Somalia against the militant group Al-Shaabab. The campaign codenamed “Operation Linda Nchi” was praised by some as a bold move by the country to use its hard power to protect its strategic interests, but criticised by others who deemed its objectives as unrealistic and unachievable. While the latest move to join AMISOM represents significant advantages for Kenya, it does not necessarily make the role of Kenyan troops any easier in the context of Somalia`s unpredictable and volatile environment. Known more for its traditional core principles and norms of non-interference in internal affairs of other states, good neighbourliness and peaceful settlement of disputes, Kenya`s involvement in Somalia raises bigger questions around the country`s` geostrategic interests and how it should pursue them. Cast off as a reluctant regional hegemony or an unwilling” regional power, Kenya has been questioned by those who view it`s neighbours as having more influence on regional geopolitics despite Kenya`s stronger economic leverage. The concern, therefore, is why does Kenya not seem to convert its material and ideational resources into political influence and act as a pivotal state in the region or at least show such willingness as others in the region seem to? In fact, occasionally Kenya seems to follow some of these countries, leading some to argue that Kenya`s Foreign Policy strategies are a passive object of other countries` geo-strategic interests. Perhaps a radical departure was the incursion into Somalia to wage war on Al-Shabaab. This was the biggest military gamble the country has taken since independence to advance its security interests. Nairobi seemed, for once, to be militarising its Foreign Policy, signaling a sense of policy shift and a desire to align its security interests with its economic clout. This intervention, however, raised questions around its legality, utility and whether it would achieve its objectives.

This seminar sought to provide a platform to discuss among other issues, whether or not Kenya needs to assert itself more, regionally and continentally, and if so, what alternatives are available to do so? At a very basic level, what explains sometimes Kenya`s ambivalence in regional relations and does “Operation Linda Nchi” represent a shift by Kenya from idealism to realism?

With the region becoming a hydrocarbon province, a `new frontier` for oil and gas opportunities, there are suggestions that there may potentially be game-changing scenarios in regional geopolitics; how should Kenya exercise its symbolic, economic, diplomatic and other methods of power, to make itself regionally and globally competitive as per its vision 2030?

This aim of the seminar is to understand the nexus between Kenya`s Foreign Policy principles and practice, and link Kenyan policymakers with current research and evidence-based policy options on pressing topical issues.

Welcoming Remarks

Dr Kisiangani Emmanuel, on behalf of the ISS, welcomed participants and drew their attention to the significance of the Seminar. He pointed out that Kenya as a country that has designs on being an important regional and continental player, needs strategic thinking around its foreign relations. He observed that while Kenya has outlined its Foreign Policy orientation towards several basic and universally recognized norms, it has not developed a clear national strategic narrative about its core geo strategic interests and an overarching strategy to pursue them. This seminar, he said, sought to provide a platform for dialogue to understand Kenya`s geostrategic interests and role in regional geopolitics. He thanked the Hanns Seidel Foundation for sponsoring the Seminar and for their close cooperation with ISS. He also thanked ISS core partners in supporting ISS`s work. Markus Baldus, HSF`s Regional Representative gave a short perspective to HSF, its linkage to the Christian Democratic party in German and its work in the area of political education based on human ideals.  He underscored HSF collaboration with various ISS offices and projects and thanked participants for turning up for the seminar.


First Presenter

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, Kenya Institute of Governance- Presentation Title: Is “Operation Linda Nchi” a Sign of Shifting Geopolitical Strategy in Kenya?

Dr Kituyi began by giving a historical trajectory of Kenya`s Foreign policy from the post independent era in the early 1960`s to the 1970`s, observing that Kenya`s Foreign Policy then, reflected domestic issues and agendas and due to its inward looking nature, it did not as such enhance Kenya`s image in the international arena. This, he said, was unlike neighbouring Tanzania whose Foreign Policy reflected a robust regional engagement and also a pan African outlook especially in regard to support to liberation struggles in Southern Africa and South Africa in particular. He asserted that Kenya`s disinterest in regional strategic thinking was often disguised as non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. In the wake of Kenya`s incursion into Somalia, it has been argued that Kenya had shed its image and policy of non-interference for a more assertive approach to regional issues. Dr Kituyi however, argued that the incursion into Somalia does not necessarily represent a departure from the principle of good neighbourliness, but that the objective of national interests had exceeded the possibility of Kenya`s soft power and non-interference in the internal affairs of its neighbours. He added that Kenya has previously never been properly faced with sufficient challenge from outside of its international borders to require military force unlike its other east African neighbours some of who appear less powerful but have been more proactive militarily in the region.

Kituyi advanced another line of thinking that governments in the region that have come to power through prolonged military struggles have had major problems demobilizing soldiers within their ranks and therefore, resort to military adventure  as away of postponing the challenge of demobilization. In other words, the aim is to export soldiers to neighboring countries to fight wars that would easily be avoided. This, he said, may partly explain Uganda`s involvement in the overthrow of the Habyarimana government in Rwanda and its military adventures in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda`s involvement in the DRC and the conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and South Sudan-Sudan. To him, Kenya has severally resisted the opportunity for similar adventures and cited a stand off between Kenya and Uganda where Uganda`s Idd Amin claimed that Uganda`s international borders extended inside Kenya to a place called Naivasha. This he said, did not degenerate into military confrontation because Kenya was not disposed towards adventurism as explained above. To illustrate further the differences in Foreign Policy approaches between Kenya and its neighbours Dr Kituyi the case of Kenya and Uganda`s responses to the Sudan -South Sudan conflict. He said while both countries were in solidarity with the Sudan People`s Liberation Movement (SPLM) during the north-south conflict, Uganda supported SPLM more openly unlike Kenya which disguised its support in order to maintain engagement and relations with Khartoum. This made is possible for Kenya to play the role of hosting the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) negotiations in away Uganda could not. As to whether those who have engaged in military adventures in the region are ipso facto more influential, Kituyi argued that that remains debatable.

In the past, Kenya has not had many challenges that called for greater flexing of its muscles. Kituyi, however, said the circumstances had, in the recent past, significantly changed with Kenya`s jostling for eminence as a leader in regional frontier markets, tourism and also because of Kenya`s price of neighbouring a failed state. This has resulted in Kenya`s robust engagement in the region because of the changing geo-strategic opportunities and interests. He said Kenya`s intervention in Somalia followed a number of happenings that fuelled umbrage from sections of Kenyans. These included the recurrent raids by Ethiopian armed groups in Turkana with substantial slaughter of Kenyans and livestock theft over the past year, the standoff with Uganda over the Migingo Island in Lake Victoria and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni`s derogatory statements about Kenyan soldiers being good for military parades and football competitions., with last straw being the cross border abductions of foreigners both in Lamu and in Dadaab refugee camp, which necessitated a reaction and a more robust approach from Kenya. Thus, he said, a combination of developments forced a shift of policy in Nairobi. With the East and Horn of Africa region developing into a prospective hydrocarbon province, Kenya aspires to be the hub for the international investments in natural gas and petroleum resources.  As a result, Kenya has been positioning herself to play a leadership role and this explains her intentions to open up of a second international seaport at Lamu and develop a number of infrastructure projects linking the Lamu port to South Sudan and Ethiopia. The disruptive pressures from Somalia have posed a direct challenge to law enforcement in Kenya and to its trade routes. The growing brazenness by extremist groups had increased fears of what impact it may breed among sections of Kenyan Muslims. Positioning herself as a lead frontier economy with new found resource endowment and rising investor attention, Kenya requires guaranteed peace at home and in its neighbourhood. Dealing with al shabaab has, therefore, become more than involving in neighbour`s business. It is imperative for Kenya`s domestic stability and long-term investor confidence. Dr Kituyi concluded that the growing importance of regional stability to Kenya`s economic projections has seen off the traditional route of benign disinterest and pacific posturing that characterized her regional behavior. He said the era of innocence had gone and Kenya had realized that leadership will sometimes have to be offered with a force of arms.

Second Presenter

Dr. Edward Kisiang`ani, Kenyatta University-Presentation Title “Issues in Kenya`s Foreign Policy and the Somali Crisis: Some reflections.”

Dr Kisiangani began by asking three questions:

a)     whether Kenya has a Foreign Policy?

b)    whether there is anything like a Kenyan nation? and

c)     whether the Kenyan Foreign Policy (if it exists) does reflect the wishes of all Kenyans?

To Dr Kisiang`ani, a nation is made up of people with the same culture, language and values and Kenya, with 42 ethnic groups, cannot therefore be referred to as a nation. He emphasized that the state should represent the wishes of all the nations even in its implementation of Foreign Policy. Kisiang`ani questioned whether the 42 “nations` in Kenya are represented at the state level. His argument was that Kenya`s Foreign Policy has represented sectional interests and was not, therefore, unifying the state. He compared the Foreign Policy of the United States of America (USA) and that of Kenya and noted that USA`s Foreign Policy does not change much even with change of government. This, he said, is because the US has over the years developed one nation with similar values. He pointed out that the US state (where the state is the bureaucratic wing of the nation that administers the country and is the custodian of law and order) is not ethnicized like is the case with Kenya.

Dr Kisiangani argued that on paper Kenya`s Foreign Policy is been guided by the following basic and universally recognized norms. These include, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states and preservation of national security, good neighborliness and peaceful co-existence, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, non-alignment and national self-interest, adherence to the Charters of the United Nations and Organisation of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU).  He also noted that Kenya is involved in international cooperation with other countries through several regional initiatives including; the East African Community (EAC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), ACP-EU, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), New Partnership for Africa`s Development (NEPAD), International Criminal Court (ICC) among others. This co-operation, he said, is borne out of the realization that the development and prosperity of Kenya are intimately tied with her neighbors in the region. The proactive and participatory role in the economic and trade dynamics in the region is geared towards fighting poverty and improving the welfare of the citizens of Kenya. Kisiang`ani argued that Kenya`s Foreign Policy is not the same in theory and practice maintaining that Kenya has not succeeded in representing all the 42 nations in defining the Foreign Policy. According him, Kenya`s Foreign Policy is ethnicized since most of the key Foreign Policy decision makers are from one ethnic group.

He emphasized the aspect of ethnicization and argued that it played a key role in Kenya`s intervention in Somalia. To substantiate his hypothesis, he asked; would Kenya have invaded Somalia if the President of Kenya was of Somali ethnic group? He used other cross border incidences involving ethnic communities other than the one from which the Kenyan president comes, such as the Kenya-Uganda dispute over Migingo Island in Lake Victoria, that involved mainly the Kenyan Luo ethnic group and where the Kenyan government acted quite passively, to illustrate the point that Kenya`s Foreign Policy is highly ethnicized and that ethnicity plays a key role in Kenya`s Foreign Policy decisions. In the past, he said, the top decision makers in government, who have influenced Foreign Policy have often come from the same ethnic group. In Dr. Kisiangani`s view, a solution to Somalia`s problems lies in soft power strategies such as negotiations with the various Somali clans and their leaders and even with the militant group Al-Shabaab in order to deal with the underlying structural issues. Dr. Kisiang`ani faulted the hard power approach arguing that it does not bring forth a lasting solution but instead serves to alienate and radicalize Somalia youth.

In his closing remarks, he asserted that Kenya`s Foreign Policy is not representative of the 42 Kenyan nations and their interests. Kenyans, he argued, should have been consulted before the Kenyan government sent troops Somalia for the process to be inclusive and adding that through the military intervention, Kenya is now more closely bound to the chaos in Somalia. Kenya, he said, can be part of the effort to stabilize Somalia, but to do so, it must not impose a solution rather it must provide the right political incentives for Somalis to be at peace with themselves, and the region.


Mr Samwel Gitonga- Foreign Service Institute/Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In his response, Samuel Gitonga sought to clarify the existence of a Kenyan Foreign Policy by summing up its key objectives as the protection of Kenya`s sovereignty and territorial integrity, enhancement of regional peace and security, promotion of sub-regional and regional integration and advancement of Kenya`s economic prosperity among others. Kenya`s guiding principle, he said, is always the Country`s national interest. Mr. Gitonga expressed confidence in Kenya`s strategic plan 2009-2013 that forms the basis of Kenya`s priorities in its foreign mandate. These include promoting economic development and prosperity through regional cooperation and strategic partnerships by increasing capital in-flow, harnessing existing sources of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) while attracting new sources and enhancing technological advancement through appropriate and reasonable technology. Enhancing peace, security and shared regional prosperity since Kenya future is tied to the stability and development of Kenya`s neighbors; engaging in preventative diplomacy; combating international terrorism, organized crime and small arms proliferation; and supporting post-conflict reconstruction and development.

He noted that Kenya`s role in the region has been robust and this is seen through the multilateral engagements with regional bodies such as chairing the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) for the last 3-yrs. He added that Kenya is also the current chair of the East African Community (EAC) and is keen to fast track the EAC integration process (Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union and Political Federation). Kenya, he said, has also taken a leading role in the activities of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to, among others, address the myriad challenges facing the sub-region particularly the Sudan and Somali Conflicts. He explained that Kenya`s intervention in Somalia was as a result of the increased scale of attacks inside the Kenyan territory. This significantly affected the security and safety of Kenyans and foreign nationals. He argued that the attacks posed a serious threat to the Kenya`s economy and that the activities of the Al-Shabab militants had tested Kenya`s patience and stretched it too far. To him, it was only a matter of time before Kenya took a decisive step. Mr. Gitonga defended Kenya`s intervention arguing that it had a well thought out strategy on how to pursue the Al-Shabaab group inside southern Somalia to degrade their capacity to threaten Kenya`s national interests.  Kenya`s second goal was to incapacitate Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaida elements in south and central Somalia in order permit the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to establish effective control over the entire Somali territory. To him, the strategic threats posed by the Somali conflict and extremist elements were a serious concern to Kenya and these included the fact that South and Central Somalia were a safe haven for local and international terrorists, and al Shabaab and Al Qaeda were recruiting to their rank and file from Kenya and the region posing a major security threat to Kenya. In addition, the continued influx of refugees to camps in Kenya is causing serious humanitarian, security and environmental challenges and the issue is compounded by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, drugs and human trafficking.

He noted that Kenya`s objectives in intervening in Somalia were realistic and achievable. Operation Linda Nchi, he said, succeeded in raising international attention on the situation in Somalia and also helped to displace and scatter al Shabaab from large parts of south and central Somalia and drastically reduced their capacity to attack Kenya. Piracy incidences along the Kenyan Coast, he said, have also reduced by 30 to 40% as a result of Kenya`s military activities. He observed that Kenyan troops were rehatting to AMISOM because the Somalia conflict was not just a Kenyan concern but also a regional and international one. By joining AMISOM Kenya was responding to an appeal from African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council to create a regional synergy that would enhance effectiveness in stabilizing Somalia. He argued that this presents the region with a better coordination, command and control structure of all regional troops in Somalia.

Response to an earlier speaker about the military strategy not being sufficient, Gitonga conceded that it might not be the ultimate solution to the unpredictable and volatile environment in Somalia but observed that the strategy goes hand in hand with an overarching political strategy that will support the creation of effective governance structures at the local and regional levels. He explained that the use of hard power does not necessarily mean a shift in Kenya`s Foreign Policy as this may be applied concurrently with Kenya`s soft power.  In his concluding remarks, he reiterated that Kenya`s role in the socio-economic development of the region is clear and that it continues to assert itself through active participation in the activities of EAC, IGAD, ICGLC and the common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).

Q &A Session

During the question and answer session, a number of issues were raised. These included whether or not there should be a new approach, a bottom-up approach, to dealing with the Somali conflict rather than previous top down approaches involving attempts to install a central government to which Dr. Kituyi responded that each approach is fraud with its own challenges. He said that a bottom-up approach needs to overcome the complex issue of factionalism in Somali politics, which maintained is not easy. Dr. Kituyi noted that the TFG has a chance to implement significant changes in Somalia given the recent military achievements. He faulted those who come up with political models for societies transitioning from dictatorship to democracy, arguing that there was no single effective model to be followed by such societies particularly if they are plural in nature.

One speaker raised the issue of the increasing discoveries of hydrocarbon products in the region and the possible insecurity ramifications to which Dr. Kituyi and Mr. Gitonga agreed that there was need to put in place measures to ensure fairness in the distribution a trickle down of the benefits of these resources particularly to local communities where the resources are extracted.

On the issue of ethnicization of Kenya`s Foreign Policy, Dr. Kituyi took a different position arguing that there are ethnic dimensions at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, including issues around recruitment but this does not necessarily make Kenya`s Foreign Policy ethnic in its objectives and goals. While Dr Kisiangani used the Migingo dispute between Kenya and Uganda to demonstrate that Kenya`s Foreign Policy seeks to serve ethnic interests, one participant argued that there was need for more substantive evidence to demonstrate that Kenya`s Foreign Policy was ethnicized in the sense that it benefited one ethnic community.

Mr. Gitonga defended the Ministry`s composition arguing that its recruitment process was free, fair and inclusive of all the tribes in Kenya. He added that it is the Public Service Commission of Kenya that was charged with recruiting public servants on behalf of the government and that staffing was done on the basis of merit.

Seminar Programme


10:30- Seminar starts

10:30-10:35-Welcoming Remarks-ISS

10:35-10:40-Introductory Remarks-Markus Baldus, Regional Representative, Hanns Seidel Foundation.

10:40-11:05-First Speaker-Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, Executive Director, Kenya Institute of Governance and Former Minister for Trade and Industry

11:05-11:30-Second Speaker-Dr Edward Kisiangani, Senior Lecturer, Department of History, Archaeology and Political Studies and Director, Alumni and Outreach Programmes, Kenyatta University.

11:30-11:40-Respondent- Samwel Gitonga, Minister Counsellor 1/Deputy Director, Foreign service institute, Ministry of foreign affairs, Nairobi

11:30-11:40-Question and answer Session

12:30-seminar ends, finger lunch


  • Dr Kisiangani Emmanuel, Senior Researcher, Institute for Security Studies

ISS Rules:

Participants are free to use the information presented, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participants, may be revealed without his/her express permission.


ISS Nairobi
Conference Room
Braeside Gardens
Off Muthangari Road



Dr. Emmanuel Kisiangani
Tel: +254 20 386 1625
Cell: +254 719 661 422
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