By Kenyatta Otieno
Thanks to Julian Assange, the brains behind WikiLeaks, the world got to know that diplomacy is not just about wining and dining with the high and mighty. It is also about spying.
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The website publishes diplomatic cable leaks mainly of US ambassadors’ reports to the State Department. The revelations were intriguing and shocking in equal measure. The USA had no option but to apologise in advance to world leaders when they realised they could not prevent the leaking of classified reports.
The detailed profiling of our political leaders by US Embassy in Nairobi was rather chilling… like watching a video of what happens in your bedroom. We realised that the CIA has informers deep inside the hidden corners of our government and political circles. The US, being the superpower it is, can afford to gather all this intelligence that is crucial in maintaining their position in global geo-politics. At the back of it are their economic and security interests.
Diplomats operate under diplomatic immunity provided for by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. One of the prohibited acts for diplomats is spying on host nations. As much as spying is against diplomatic etiquette, it is the norm. International Relations practitioners know that every country sends intelligence officers disguised as general diplomats to their embassies abroad.
Kenya also sends NIS agents abroad. These agents may not be known to the sitting ambassadors because they report to their bosses outside the Foreign Affairs office. The consolation is that the dossiers if deemed crucial will end up with the Chief Diplomat ‒ the president. Their role involves spying on threats and opportunities for Kenya.
The problem with NIS is its historical hangovers. Formerly known as Special Branch, it was notorious for cracking down on political dissidents and then for security surveillance.
As the world changes, bringing with it new challenges, intelligence dealers have no option but to change too. There might be little or no threat to our security from Brazil, for example, yet as it is custom, we have to send an intelligence officer there. The role of our spies abroad should then be broader than simply eavesdropping.
This intelligence, as proved by WikiLeaks, is geared towards understanding the social, political and cultural aspects of a country and its leaders for bargaining.
The Lamu Port South Sudan and Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor is one of the most ambitious development ideas to have been conceived in Kenya. It is envisioned that a railway line, road and pipeline will run from the port of Lamu to Isiolo where it will proceed west to Juba and North to Addis. Add in there a new city of Isiolo as the epicenter of our once ignored northern frontier, and Lapsset was touted to attract investors from all around the globe. But the pipeline project is leaking even before it is laid.
The benefits are hsaid to be huge and the ripple effect of this project will be felt in every aspect of our social and economic life. But, after launching the project, an occasion graced by leaders in the region except Tanzania’s, our amnesia set in.
The problem has been funding, whose sourcing Kenya delayed on the understanding that all countries involved would chip in. We, it seems, are going to pay very dearly for the project.
In August last year, President Kenyatta visited Uganda and addressed the Ugandan Parliament. Thereafter, both countries signed a deal to go ahead with the cost effective Hoima –Lamu route for the pipeline. Uganda gave pre-conditions ‒ upfront guarantee of financing of the project including related infrastructure and guarantee of stabilising tariffs ‒ which Kenya contested. After the signing, both sides issued communiqués; Kenya’s did not include the pre-conditions.
We were playing hardball even before we had the deal.
There has been the extension of the existing pipeline to Kampala via Busia, which the World Bank had agreed to fund on behalf of Uganda since about 2003. At some point, our internal politics shifted the project to Malaba from Busia. The project had been left in limbo due to our delay in agreeing to the terms with Uganda. When it became obvious that Uganda was leaning towards the more costly Tanga Port route, Kenya Pipeline announced in March this year that the project would be hastened. This was our attempt not to lose out on our exports to Central Africa.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia constructed a railway line to the port of Djibouti and Uganda has decided to go with Tanzania in constructing a pipeline from Hoima to the port of Tanga. Our only fallback plan is South Sudan, and only if Ethiopia or Uganda does not lure them into their grand plans. Uganda is already making plans to fund a railway line to Juba as part of its Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project with Kenya.
My main worry is why and how government appeared as surprised as the rest of us when the media reported that Uganda had changed its earlier position, and would now re-route the pipeline to Tanzania. The panic meeting with President Museveni in Nairobi followed by President Uhuru’s trip to France to meet French owned Total Oil Company leaders all appear to have come too late.
This is where our National Intelligence Services come to mind. Little is known of our intelligence services unlike the America’s CIA, Britain’s M15 and Israel’s Mossad ‒ whose agents carry out risky operations which sometimes go wrong and the world gets to hear about them. We have suffered quite some attacks compared to our “secure days”, and so my inference is that the NIS does its best from this side of this complex world. I will assume they picked this crucial intelligence and informed the President that Uganda was talking to Tanzania behind our Lapsset back. If they did not, then I hope they have flagged the leakage going forward.
The problem is in our culture; politics rules our national psyche. Sate House will look critically at security and political intelligence and give economic intelligence minimal attention. Unfortunately the biggest threat to our national security is not terrorism but the bulging but jobless youthful population. The economy’s growth or failure will determine how these young Kenyans and their corresponding political leaders respond to social challenges in future. That makes the economy crucial to our national security.
The irony is that Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame are former intelligence officers. This gives Uganda and Rwanda an upper hand as they know how to leverage on intelligence in pursuing their national interests. I would not be surprised if it emerged they are always informed of the goings in our corridors of power. It seems we are always either following their lead or playing catch up.
The second leak is our foreign policy. We have a foreign policy “stool” that stands on five legs; peace, economy, diaspora, environment and culture. Our main objective in the economic pillar is to increase capital flow to Kenya and East Africa. This makes Lapsset vital.
The first pillar of our foreign policy is peace. It is a consistent carry-over from our involvement in Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War though our invasion of Somalia was a major turning point. We learned the hard way that peace is not an end in itself and we must be prepared to fund our wars in future to defend it; for now the West can fund us. To invest in future peace, we must make sure we grow our economy as well. This setback in Lapsset is not good for our interests in the present and the future.
Our supreme national interests are territorial integrity and independence, which a state’s existence depends on and for which we will go to war to defend. Vital interests, like the economy, do not threaten the existence of a state and may be defended by war only if war will not threaten supreme interests.
Then there are strategic interests, like sports and citizenship, which are catered for by changes in policy. Foreign policy must be defined around national interest. Our biggest challenge is not formulating policy but in implementing the same.
Former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete fell out with Paul Kagame of Rwanda when Tanzanian troops were sent to Eastern Congo under the UN mandate. This prompted the sly Kagame to initiate a “coalition of the willing” with Kenya and Uganda so as to alienate Tanzania; we fell for it. High profile summits between the three countries were held with agreements signed on developing infrastructure. New Tanzanian president John Magufuli has warmed up to Rwanda, even going for his maiden trip abroad to Kigali by road.
Museveni also invited Jubilee leaders to campaign for NRM in Eastern Uganda in the recently-concluded Ugandan general elections. In our peace-inspired approach to foreign relations, we assumed that our interests are tied to Uganda’s and Rwanda’s interests until we were woken up from our stupor by the “Lapsset burst”.
Another hint that we might be a little too late in intervening was when top officials from the ministry of Energy were detained in Tanga. This happened as their Ugandan counterparts, who accompanied them, were allowed into the new port.
Selfishness and greed
Earlier before all these pipeline business went sour, President Uhuru led a team to Uganda in august last year, to discuss trade. The trip left Kenyans, especially those from the western region, with a sour taste in the mouth. On the sidelines of the pipeline talks, Kenya agreed to allow Ugandan sugar imports for a deal to send processed milk the other way.
This summarises our international relations; it serves the private interests of those in power. The Kenyatta family-owned Brookeside Dairies would be a monopoly in the dairy industry in the absence of the state-owned KCC.
These selfish interests can also be seen in the delegations that go for international trips. Majority of people in the big delegations are joyriders out to earn allowances and go shopping. Very little resources and energy go into getting the right minds to defend the interests of Kenya. The right teams only get assembled when matters run out of control, like the ICC saga and the recent pipeline standoff.
An insider says that the first huddle was compensating land owners to secure land for the project. This was delayed by the usual politics because land owners on the pipeline route do not belong to “politically correct” communities. This was the last excuse Uganda gave, that it took Kenya two years to secure the SGR way leave while Tanzania took nine months to secure land for a gas pipeline that is already under construction. In this country a project’s timely success is determined by who gets the kickback, and the beneficiaries thereof. This is another “leakage” that came in even before the project began.
Kenya is a hegemony in Eastern African region. Ironically, we may suffer from Brexit syndrome that has inflicted Britain in the European Union. They assumed that their position as the power behind The European Union is permanent and pensionable. Little did they know that Germany had other plans. As the EU integration progressed, they realised their seat had moved from the end of the table. Now they are contemplating leaving the EU.
The only threat to our pole position in the region for now is Ethiopia. Our Northern neighbours are giving our fresh cut flowers a run in the international market. There is a move by countries in the region to cut Kenya to size. While inaugurating Tanzania’s first suspended bridge recently, President Magufuli said “some people should know that Tanzania has woken up”. There is no more incentive to play safe for the sake of peace. To safeguard our stakes, we may have to play dirty some times.
A good example is how we watched as Uganda sent troops to Juba to back Salva Kiir when civil war broke out. If Kiir holds onto power, he will favour Uganda, yet it is us who invested a lot in SPLM during their struggle against Sudan. It wouldn’t hurt to play the neutral mediator and back one side secretly, with the agreement that they will look at our offers favourably. Lest we forget, we still have the Ilemi Triangle dispute with South Sudan pending.
Meanwhile the matter came to an end during the 13th Northern Corridor Infrastructure Summit held in Kampala on the April 23rd weekend. Even as word leaked that Uganda had decided on the Hoima-Tanga route, Energy CS Charles Keter was left out of a meeting between Uganda and Tanzania which was supposed to be a tri-lateral meeting. President Uhuru delayed his arrival by a day when Kenya realised nothing could be done to salvage the deal. We can avoid such small embarrassments if we get insider information in good time.
This ‘pipeline burst’ should not derail us. In as much as we are important to the success of EAC, we must not sacrifice our national interests for a yet to be realised integration. We have to go ahead with Lapsset as we re-strategise; they cannot ignore us for long. At some point, they will come back to win us over.
The Executive and NIS must change tack; we cannot afford to lose more diplomatic fights in the region. We must reclaim our position and restore the pecking order in EAC and IGAD.