Magazine article New African

When Kenya Sneezes ... despite Its Strategic Importance, Kenya Maintains a Moderate Profile in International Politics. This "Silent Diplomacy" Approach Has Enabled Kenyan Businesses to Expand All over the Region without Any Trouble

Magazine article New African

When Kenya Sneezes ... despite Its Strategic Importance, Kenya Maintains a Moderate Profile in International Politics. This "Silent Diplomacy" Approach Has Enabled Kenyan Businesses to Expand All over the Region without Any Trouble

Article excerpt

By a twist of fate, Kenya was the haven of peace for all its neighbours. Somalis, Ethiopians, Sudanese, Ugandans, Congolese, Rwandese and Burundians- all found a home in Kenya while escaping the turmoil back in their home countries. The current peace in Sudan and the relative calm in Somalia (which now has an internationally-recognised government) are all due to the pivotal role played by Kenya.

In fact, the post-election violence in Kenya made the people realise just how strategic their country is to East and Central Africa. During the violence in 2008, Kenya's neighbours (Ethiopia, Uganda, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern DRCongo and Northern Tanzania) also suffered immeasurably as their routes for vital supplies, notably oil, essential commodities, and access to communication were disrupted. This resulted in price hikes for consumer products.

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The saying that "when Kenya sneezes, East Africa catches a cold," is widely known in the region and was often quoted by commentators at the height of the Kenyan violence, which forced Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, to say what many world leaders would not dare: He called for a military solution in Nairobi! It is these sentiments that underscore Kenya's strategic relevance to the region. While this fact has remained unknown to many Kenyans, the major powers and Kenya's neighbours see the country differently.

The largest US embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa is in Nairobi, Kenya's capital. Other than New York, Vienna, Rome and Geneva, Nairobi is the other main bastion of the United Nations. It is home to UN-Habitat, UNEP, and myriad other UN agencies. Britain, China, Canada, Belgium, Russia, India, Israel, the European Union (EU), Iran, Brazil, Pakistan and all the major powers have huge diplomatic missions in Nairobi. The Bretton Woods institutions and a galaxy of multinational corporations and NGOs also have their regional bases in Kenya.

Kenya also has East and Central Africa's most important stock market, the Nairobi Stock Exchange. And having the biggest economy in the region, Kenya is considered the most efficient gateway to East Africa, with its capitalist free market policies. The country is a robust commercial hub, it has well-developed communications facilities, and is considered by many as the financial and investment capital of East Africa, with highly skilled and competent personnel and superb transportation links. The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Kilindini Harbour (both undergoing expansion) are the busiest and largest in the region.

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Soon after the election of President Kibaki's NARC administration in 2002, Kenya's economy recovered significantly, recording a 2.8% growth in 2003, 4.3% in 2004, 5.8% in 2005, 6.1% in 2006, and 7.0% in 2007. This was due to Kibaki's ambitious "Economic Recovery Strategy 2003-07". In 2007, horticulture exports to America rose by 65% or $1.12bn in cash, surpassing tourism as the largest foreign exchange earner. In the same year, tourism earned Kenya $972m, up from $803m in 2006. This was followed by tea, which raked in $639m. Sadly, the repercussions of the post-election violence blocked the Northern Corridor in Rift Valley Province, cutting off shipment of vital fuel and essential items to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern DRCongo and South Sudan. Tourism also shrank, agriculture stagnated, and the manufacturing sector was forced to cut back operations due to unsafe roads. This slowed down the movement of people, goods and services. The ripple effect was congestion at the Mombasa port, which slowed down the clearing and forwarding of imports and exports. This dent on Kenya's economy revealed the country's strategic value to the region. As such, the country has been investing heavily in infrastructure and energy in recent months to meet internal demand and also mitigate the transport problems of its neighbours. …

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