Magazine article New African

Why Peace Is Imperative for the Region: Monica Juma Kenya's Foreign Minister

Magazine article New African

Why Peace Is Imperative for the Region: Monica Juma Kenya's Foreign Minister

Article excerpt

Monica Juma (right), Kenya's new Foreign Minister (officially Cabinet Secretary in charge of Foreign Affairs) has had a long and distinguished career in the country's diplomatic service, specialising in defence and security. She was Permanent Secretary in Kenya's sensitive Defence and Interior Ministries before moving to the Foreign Ministry. In conversation with Wanjohi Kabukuru, she brings into perspective Kenya's place in global politics and argues why the maintenance of peace and security are essential to growth and prosperity.

In terms of security, what are the dynamics that define the Horn of Africa and the East African region?

Monica Juma: A number of dynamics are at play. Globally, this is probably the third most fragile region in the world. After Afghanistan and the Middle East, you have the Horn of Africa.

Its historical significance goes right back to the time of the Roman empire. It is an area that is well desired because of its strategic location.

More recently, during the Cold War, the Horn of Africa was one of the most important geostrategic locations and chokepoints in global commerce, as it still is today. More than 60% of the world's commerce takes place via the Red Sea today. So it is an area of great concern to the whole world.

That is why the piracy and hostage-taking in the Indian Ocean became a global and international peace and security issue. The Suez Canal connects Europe to the rest of the world, so in this region, we are sitting on virtually a main artery for world commerce. That by itself makes it a point of interest for everybody.

Today we have more than seven militaries stationed in this region because of its location. This is one of the things that defines the character of the Horn of Africa.

But the Horn of Africa also has some other interesting features. We are ecologically fragile. We face cyclic drought and this compounds environmental degradation, which in turn has also been linked to the movement of large numbers of people.

The number of internally displaced persons in this region is high because we haven't been able to manage our ecology that well. That is another feature that defines our region. That is why you often hear international appeals for humanitarian assistance.

It is also a region that has had a lot of movement in and out of itself. The study of the history of the Horn of Africa is a study of migration. There has been a great deal here and it has been both within and also outside the region.

You have this huge coastal region, stretching from Mozambique all the way to Yemen and Oman. One of the elements we talk about at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the extent of Swahili culture, present from Mozambique to Oman. There are things that you can turn into positives. For example, we can actually scale up the annual Lamu festival, in the north of Kenya, into a regional Swahili festival.

What is the significance of the Indian Ocean Rim?

The Indian Ocean Rim is becoming an area of growing strategic importance.

The Chinese 'One Belt, One Road' initiative is coming through here but we cannot have a China Belt that comes only to Nairobi, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. It must create a bridge from the Indian Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean. This region is the gateway, so to speak, to Central, West and Southern Africa. It is really the continental gateway.

Our proximity to India, China and Australia means we sit at the centre, between the East and the West. But this is also the only region with new countries, such as Eritrea and South Sudan. It is a region of resilience, a lot of optimism and one that is always trying to improve, even in difficult circumstances.

This country [Kenya] has the largest and only UN footprint in the global South. We are a global leader in environmental diplomacy. When you combine that with the subterranean wealth that we are only now beginning to understand, and how varied it is, we are a country of immense possibilities. …

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