Forgetting the "Big Man Syndrome": Just How Did Traditional Kenyan Allies, the US and the EU Lose the Kenyan Plot and Fail to See a New Dispensation Which Is Emerging in the East African Country? Asks Wanjohi Kabukuru from Nairobi

Article excerpt

IN SIX MONTH'S TIME PRESIDENT Mwai Kibaki will be leaving the scene and as he saunters into retirement, he will be remembered for many things. One point stands out and even his harshest critics admit--his legacy as "the infrastructure president" is obvious for all to see. In his 10 years as president Kibaki has transformed Kenya and the hallmarks denoting the various faces of transformation are all stamped: China, India, Japan, South Africa, Brazil and the Kenyans in the diaspora.

Kenya's major cities, led by the capital Nairobi, the coastal vacation metropolis of Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret in the Rift Valley, and Kisumu the lakeside resort city, are all gleaming with new airports, roads infrastructure and expanded radii, complete with fast-growing middle-class real estate suburbs. Much of this infra-structural transformation has been built by the Chinese, Japanese, Indians and funds from the Kenyans in the diaspora.

There is no gainsaying that Kibaki's leadership style totally differs to that of his predecessor, Kenya's second president, Daniel Arap Moi, who steered Kenyan for 24 years, during which western diplomats enjoyed unfettered access to State House, Kenya's seat of power. In Kibaki's administration, this template no longer holds.

Solid institutions with checks and balances have replaced the narrative that Kenya suffered from "big man syndrome", while preferential treatment to the East African Community (EAC) bloc and BRIGS alliance symbolises the new Kenyan diplomatic and trade dispensation.

A close study of Kibaki's two terms reveals three paradigms to Kenya's foreign policy. The first one is his fixation with the East African Community (EAC) bloc comprising Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The second is his pursuit of a larger Horn of Africa economic bloc through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) encompassing Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Kibaki's final exemplar is his radical 2.005 "Look East Policy." His engagement with the EU and its allies is, to say the least, lukewarm.

While the actual events on the ground have revealed that the Far Eastern economic powerhouses have overtaken the much-frequented western allies, official communication to this effect has never been forthcoming. It is only recently that the gremlins of the cold shoulder given to the EU by the Kibaki administration began to emerge.

Kenya's foreign minister, Sam Ongeri, told the Parliamentary Defence and Foreign Relations Committee that President Kibaki had rejected an invitation by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to visit the United Kingdom two years ago after scrutinising the invitation and deducing that it was "not appropriate to execute the visit". This was "diplospeak" as Ongeri told the committee that the full reasons for Kibaki's refusal to meet the British could not be revealed "in the full glare of cameras".

Has Kenya ignored her traditional partners or did they just fail to read the signs of the changed times? In a rejoinder, which goes down in history as Kenya's first ever elucidation of her foreign policy, State House Nairobi, through the Presidential Press Service (PPS) outlined Kibaki's global outlook. "President Kibaki's diplomatic policy has been guided by Kenya's present view of changing geo-political dynamics. This entails an understanding of the West and East confluence on world affairs in an ever changing environment."


The statement has now been inked as Kenya's diplomatic mantra.

The EU's envoys are widely rebuked for trying to deride Kenya's "Look East Policy", which has seen the country paying more attention to Far Eastern economic giants. "China and Japan have emerged as strategic development partners of Kenya, especially in the area of infrastructure development that has been a key pillar of the President's agenda." This was not just an empty statement borne out of populist rhetoric. …


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