A diplomatic strategy that is now reaping dividends

The airstrike near the Jilib, Middle Juba Region of Somalia the other day, which killed more than 50 Al-Shabaab militants, was only the first response, and doesn’t seem to be the last, against the terrorist organisation behind the attack which claimed the lives of 21 Kenyans and others at the 14 Riverside Drive complex in Westlands.

While the strike against Al-Shabaab might have been made by foreign and local elements, its Nairobi’s involvement and hand that looked clear.

The difference between the terrorist attacks on the Westgate Mall in 2013 and those of a few days ago are immense. While international sympathy for Kenya in the aftermath of both attacks was comparable, we are now starting to see the seeds of an international reaction that goes far beyond mere commiserations.

These seeds have been clearly planted by the growing presence and authority of President Uhuru Kenyatta on the global stage.

Up until 2014, Kenya had never enunciated and formerly strategized an official foreign policy. Like many other Kenyan Government policies of previous years, its foreign policy was rather ad hoc and was lead by outside factors rather than leading the way for a stable and confident view of itself on the world stage.

However, in 2014, the government, led by President Kenyatta, created, for the first time ever, a written foreign policy which provided a broad framework on Kenya’s foreign relations and diplomatic engagements within a contemporary globalized environment.

Kenya’s foreign policy has undergone a significant transition in response to the emerging trends in international affairs such as globalization, regional integration and security threats to new and non-conventional global peace and stability.

Among the national objectives enunciated, were to protect Kenya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, enhance regional peace and security, project Kenya’s image and prestige, and promote multilateralism.

The international community soon sat up and started to pay attention to what Kenya had to offer and major players on the global scene proffered cooperation and coordination on a host of issues invaluable to many.

Within a few short years, Kenya began to sit at the top table of international politics and global diplomacy. Over the last few years, some of the world’s most influential leaders have come to Kenya. Former US President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to name just a few, have visited Kenya over the last few years.

These leaders did not come to enjoy Kenyan hospitality, each of these visits brought massive gains for Kenya and Kenyans. In addition, President Kenyatta visited many of the world’s leading capitals and has been invited frequently to G7 meetings.

Late last year, President Kenyatta was invited to the White House where he met with President Donald Trump.

The official press release before the meeting called Kenya a “vital partner” and mentioned how it “will reaffirm the longstanding relationship between the United States and Kenya as a cornerstone of peace and stability in Africa and the broader Indo-Pacific region.”

During the opening statements between the two, President Trump spoke somewhat cryptically about defense and security cooperation.

“We do a lot of defense and security, and we’re working very much on security right now, President Trump said. “We’re working very much on security right now.”

President Kenyatta made the strong case to the American President that their war on terror was connected to our war on terror. As long as Al Qaeda-affiliate Al Shabaab was left unmolested it was a thorn in the side, not just Kenya, but the West and American interests.

It is clear that President Kenyatta had an attentive ear in President Trump, and the recent U.S.-led attacks against Al Shabaab are the fruits of this cooperation and understanding.

These are the important elements that have been put into place over the years by President Kenyatta’s robust foreign policy.

Kenyans can see that they do not stand alone in their war on terror, but have very real partners. These partners are no longer just invested in diplomatic platitudes and statements of sympathy which, while nice, do not serve much of a purpose to the average Kenyan.

More than ever before, we see that major and minor international actors are physically inserting themselves in the battle against Al Shabaab. They will not see Kenyan blood shed in vain.

We all have President Uhuru Kenyatta to thank for that.

(Prof Mogambi, Communication and social Change Expert, teaches at University of Nairobi. Email: hmogambi@yahoo.co.uk)

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