BY DR KARANJA KIBICHO
Kenya’s diplomatic representation abroad forms a crucial part of the country’s national security and development strategy.
Since independence Kenya has established diplomatic and other relations with many different nations around the world, as the country’s international stature has continued to grow. Trade, co-operation and diplomacy are some of the vital keys to both security and socio-economic development in any nation, Kenya included.
In the currently turbulent regional and global situation, Kenya has to adopt policies and strategies, both internal and external that will ensure national security, peace and stability.
Globalization of many factors has brought with it challenges to individual nations that now require close cooperation and collaboration between states that seek to achieve similar goals including security.
Kenya is a valuable member of the community of nations and has provided (and will continue to provide) peacekeeping troops in several volatile countries around the world.
Since the early 1970s, Kenya has hosted the global headquarters of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and UN-Habitat. The main offices of the two UN bodies are currently located at Gigiri, the diplomatic district on the northern outskirts of our capital city, Nairobi. Kenya is also the most preferred regional headquarters for most of the UN bodies and other international organizations and firms.
Internally, the country has experienced security challenges that has affected the tourism industry in terms of reclaiming the country’s position as a preferred destination in Africa but also undermined investments into the sector. This has been compounded by travel advisories slapped on the country by western countries.
These challenges have been occasioned by terrorism threats and attacks that has left hundreds of Kenyans dead mostly at the coast and northern Kenya.
However, terrorism is a global problem and all countries must come together to fight the menace. This is where Kenyan diplomats come in.
According to President Uhuru Kenyatta, our diplomats are the first line of defence abroad as they help to identify threats, utilise the instruments of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to pre-empt or manage them. They also advise on the external implications of treaties, and coordinate closely with other national security organs.
As the killing of international Jihadists recently revealed at the coast, terrorism has attracted fighters from various countries including the developed western nations who are engaged in causing terror in other countries including Kenya.
President Kenyatta’s administration continues to broaden and deepen its diplomatic and trade relations with other nations, especially those within the African continent, which has remained underdeveloped but is showing signs of economic takeoff in several regions, including eastern Africa, of which Kenya is a hub.
These efforts must be supported by better security for all. Initiatives by security agents and diplomats will only succeed if internally, the economy is grown to absorb the huge number of youths entering the job market annually or and by creation of economic opportunities for them.
This strategy undermines international terrorists’ initiatives to a certain extent to radicalise idle and jobless youths as easy prey to be converted into modern day jihadists.
Our international relations, while working to secure the nation through diplomatic circles, should also continue to support the country’s economic growth through investments attraction to Kenya.
In the view of the President, the best way to ensure fast and sustained socio-economic development for Kenya and other African nations is to design policies and structures to rapidly expand the exchange of goods and services within the continent.
He has demonstrated severally his desire to rapidly increase intra-African trade and investment by visiting a number of strategic countries in Africa and elsewhere in order to strengthen both diplomatic and trade links.
At the moment, Kenya’s biggest trading partner in Africa is neighbouring landlocked Uganda to the West, which is also fighting terrorism alongside Kenya in Somalia.
With the port of Mombasa and the proposed Lamu Port on its Indian Ocean coastline, Kenya is and will continue to provide the vital transport and trade link for several landlocked nations in Eastern and Central Africa.
There is also a sizeable exchange of goods and services with the other neighbouring countries, especially those that are members of the East African Community (EAC), Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Other nearby nations such as DRC Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan also form important trading partners in the region.
If fully exploited, the East African Community common market provides a huge potential for growth with a population of 141.1 million people, a GDP of US $ 99.8 billion and a GDP per capita of US $ 727.1.
Access to this market has in the past been hampered by poor infrastructure that was established during the colonial period. With the recent initiatives to improve and modernise infrastructure by the President and his regional counter-parts, the EAC member countries will begin to exploit their full trade potential.
One of the projects is the ongoingconstruction of a standard gauge railway line from Mombasa to Nairobi, expected to be completed by end of 2016. The high-speed railway is expected to significantly reduce the cost of freight along the Northern transport corridor that serves Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, saving businesses huge amounts of resources.
The country’s second corridor is the transport and infrastructure project linked to Lamu Port that will service Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) when complete.
On air link, the completion of the new terminal will allow JKIA to handle 20 million passengers a year and become a premier regional hub in the East African region and prolong its usefulness.
In tandem, the government has pumped billions of Shillings into Geothermal projects to produce more but cheaper power to make the country competitive in attractive investments.
All these projects are designed to attract investments into the country and create more jobs for our youths. Our modern-day diplomats have a major challenge to make these efforts successful.
Dr (Eng) KaranjaKibicho is the Principal Secretary, Foreign Affairs and International Trade