By Kenyatta Otieno
South Africa’s political party EFF (Economic Freedom Front) leader Julius Malema has gone hammer and tongs on President William Ruto on Kenya’s Foreign Policy. According to him, William Ruto has no business talking about Pan-Africanism while supporting Israel in its war against Palestinians. He bolstered his tirade with the experience of black South Africans under the apartheid regime, which is similar to Palestinians’ current reality under Israeli occupation. What Malema does not seen to understand is that supporting self-determination efforts anywhere in the world does not feature in Kenya’s DNA.
Get exclusive access to the groundbreaking story of Ms. Faith Odhiambo’s historic presidency at LSK in our Latest Edition of Nairobi Law Monthly MagazineDownload Latest Edition Now For Ksh 150!
South Africa fought the longest war of independence in Africa, a few years shy of a century. Kenya also posits in our Foreign Policy (FP) document that we fought a “long” war of independence, which has shaped our relationships on the international stage. Long here is relative, but the drafters of our foreign policy failed to acknowledge that Dedan Kimathi and Mau Mau were an inspiration to liberation struggles in Africa, including South Africans and, in particular Nelson Mandela.
The failure of Dedan Kimathi’s comrades and those who believed in their struggle to ascend to power at independence informs Kenya’s disdain towards the independence struggle. The people who took control did not shed sweat and blood for freedom. The political system they put up does not identify with the indignity of struggling for self-determination.
Foreign Policy is the guiding principle of a country in its relationships in the international arena. Kenya and most other countries have a laid down foreign policy. The reality is countries rarely operate within the confines of their FP. More often than not, international relations are guided by the tenets of the realist school of thought. Realism posits that the international relations arena is about competition and conflict, which breed anarchy. This means the strong nations tend to have their way, and everyone else must align.
Meanwhile, contradictions abound in Kenya’s Foreign Policy, which has humanity’s larger freedom as an objective. The mission of our FP is to promote and protect Kenya’s interests and image globally and contribute towards a just, peaceful and equitable world. Our FP rests on five pillars: Peace, Economy, Kenyan Diaspora, Environmental Conservation and Culture.
In so many words, our goal is to forge mutually beneficial alliances with the West while constructively engaging the East through its policy of positive economic and political non-alignment. We have always stood with the West (Britain and the USA) but silently pretend to stand on the blurred lines of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Imrali Island is a small island in Turkey located in the Sea of Marmara, which connects the Black Sea and Aegean Sea. It divides the European from the Asian side of Turkey. No aeroplane is allowed to fly over it, nor are people allowed to fish in the surrounding waters. This island, which has an area of about ten square kilometres and a peak measuring 217 metres in altitude, holds a maximum-security prison. In that prison, seventy-four-year-old Abdullah Ocalan has been cooling his heels since June 29, 1999. He was sentenced to death for treason, a sentence that was later commuted to life in prison.
Abdullah was abducted from the Embassy of Greece offices at the Nation Centre in Nairobi CBD in February 1999. The Greeks were preparing to fly him out of the country when Turkish Intelligence officers managed to get hold of him. His crime was fighting for self-determination for Kurds through his Kurdistan Workers’ Party by guerrilla warfare from his base in Syria.
There are about forty million Kurds in the world, spread between Iraq, Iran, Syria, Türkiye and other countries in Eastern Europe. Nearly half of them live in southern Turkey, where they have been fighting to secede. In all these countries, they are either minorities or they face discrimination. Saddam Hussein killed about five thousand Kurds in a 1988 chemical attack in northern Iraq.
Kenya could not sympathise with the Kurds, who deserve their own country. Netherlands, Italy and Russia had refused to extradite Ocalan to Türkiye but allowed him safe passage. The British gave four million Kuwaiti and five million Lebanese countries but ignored Kurds. Meanwhile, forty million Kurds missed a country for reasons known to the Allies, who drew the map based on ethnic groups after their WWI win. Kurds were stereotyped as aggressive and independent. The least Kenya could have done was allow Ocalan to fly out and let Türkiye follow him wherever he went.
Lee Njiru, in his memoir President’s Pressman, says President Daniel Moi supported some underground movements. According to Njiru, Moi supported the National Resistance Movement of Yoweri Museveni in his push to overthrow the Obote II regime in Uganda and Robert Sobukwe’s – Pan African Congress of South Africa. His support for PAC was guided by his belief that if the apartheid regime killed the popular ANC, South Africans should have a second option ready.
This was a surprise because the Kenyan government did not mind hiding its tracks in its support of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The official policy was that South African citizens could only visit Kenya upon their visa’s approval by the head of immigration. The fact is, former powerful Attorney General Charles Njonjo used his office to offer support to officers of the apartheid regime to visit Kenya and even pushed Kenya to restore diplomatic relations with despised South Africans.
Njonjo and other top government officials are believed to have aided the South Africans in their failed attempt to topple the Seychelles government in 1981. The plot was so thick that later disclosures revealed that Kenya had agreed to send troops and police to support the coup and the new government. President Moi, then the OAU chairman, was kept in the dark and ended up embarrassed.
It is also not lost to Kenyans that the same Njonjo and his former cabinet colleague Bruce Mackenzie were behind Kenya, allowing Israel to use JKIA as their base for the attack on Entebbe Airport in 1976. Israel’s operation to rescue their hostages was a success but at a cost to Kenya. Over two hundred Kenyans were killed, including former Maendeleo ya Wanawake chair Zipporah Kitony’s younger sister, Esther Jeruto, who disappeared never to be seen to date. Thousands of Kenyans were expelled from Uganda. Kenya has a long history of cooperation with Israel. When Israel retaliated for the breach of its security by Hamas from Gaza in October this year, President Ruto’s quick support for Israel was expected.
The Nigerian or Biafra Civil War was fought between 1967 and 1970. The Igbo of Eastern Nigeria declared the formation of the Republic of Biafra to contest the Nigerian Federal Government. From the early days of independence, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania set aside a percentage of their budget to support movements fighting for independence in Africa. Tanzania was among the first African countries to recognise and support The Republic of Biafra.
Fast forward, and the Biafra fiasco comes to Nairobi. Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, are fighting to establish the Republic of Biafra. Kanu was lured to Kenya in May 2021 with the promise of support for his proscribed organisation. If he knew our history, he would have bypassed Nairobi and landed in Tanzania instead. Throughout July 2023, Daily Nation published several stories on Nmadi Kanu. On July 16, it came under the question title: Did Kenya Security Men Kidnap Nigerian Separatist Nmadi Kanu? Kenya has vehemently denied complicity in Nmadi Kanu’s arrest and deportation.
Most Kenyans did not know that the story broke out in June 2021, but the Kenyan media gave it a blackout, by design or default. According to Kanu, he was abducted in Nairobi in June 2021 and held incommunicado, chained to a bare floor for eight days. His captors told him that those who hired them said he was linked with Islamist terrorists in northern Nigeria. He was in Kenya to establish contact with Al-Shabaab and had to be stopped. When he told them the truth, they reduced their cruelty but still insisted on handing him over to their masters.
Kanu added that the Nigerian government must have contracted a third party to do the job. This probably happened without the involvement of the Kenyan government. Kanu was secretly flown to Nigeria from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in a private jet on Sunday, June 27, 2021.
When word of his arrest leaked out, pro-IPOB crowds demonstrated outside Kenyan embassies in Abuja, London and Berlin. The Kenyan ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Wilfred Machage, was at pains to deny Kenyans’ involvement in the luring, arrest, and extradition of Kanu to face trial for treason in Nigeria. In October 2022, the Nigerian Court of Appeal acquitted Kanu of all charges against him, but he is still in jail. The Nigerian government was found culpable for breach of local and international law in the arrest and arraignment of Kanu in court.
Nevertheless, Kenya has been at the forefront of mediation processes in the region. Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement that gave South Sudan independence was signed in Kenya. Somalia’s Interim Government was formed in Kenya before moving to Somalia. However, Kenya has always played its role with the “naivety” of the Non-Aligned Movement mentality even after the end of the Cold War. Rebecca Garang’ widow of former SPLM leader John Garang’ once said in an interview that their appeal for support to fight the Arab-led government was met with a cold response in Kenya. He could not believe that even Luo leaders she thought had a historical link to South Sudan did not respond to their appeal. We gave them refuge but never supported their war efforts.
International politics is played on the grounds of economic strength and influence. Kenya has always held the sixth position in terms of GDP in Africa as the largest non-mineral economy in Africa. This changed when Ethiopia overtook us; now, we are the second-largest non-mineral-based economy. At position seven, we are still high in the pecking order but have never exerted our power to influence diplomacy on the continent.
Kenya lacks the moral fibre or courage to play international politics at the level we should be playing. Despite having a smaller economy, Tanzania has always been strategic in its dealings in Africa and is slowly beating us in the region. South Africa has been looking at Tanzania more favourably compared to Kenya. When economic muscle is low in fibre, it is also appropriate for a country to develop moral fibre.
Last year, Kenya flip-flopped on its support to the Western Sahara, also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s (SADR) quest for self-determination from Morocco. SADR is a member of the African Union, just like Morocco, and their exiled leader, Brahim Ghali, attended Ruto’s 2022 swearing-in and later met the president. A few weeks later, the Moroccan Foreign Minister was in Nairobi, and the government clarified that it supports Morocco in the dispute.
Julius Malema had every right to say what he said about William Ruto’s stand on the Israel-Palestinian war. However, if he can spare some time and look at Kenya’s history regarding support of independence movements, he will cut Ruto some slack. Kenya does not have the genes to support self-determination in its DNA.