By PETER KAGWANJA
Kenya’s invitation to the G7 Summit two times in a row – in Italy in 2017 and in Quebec City in Canada from June 8-9, 2018 –reveals the country’s expanding diplomatic footprint.
But Eastern Africa’s economic powerhouse has remained a reluctant regional power. Kenya’s reluctance to underwrite and assert its role as a regional power in the turbulent Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region has enabled other less influential states such as Uganda and Rwanda to eclipse and outshine it in regional geopolitics.
International relations scholars define a regional power as a state that has capabilities within a geographic region. Even though such a regional power may lack capabilities on a global scale, typically it has capabilities which are important in ensuring peace and stability in its region.
In today’s disorderly and decentralised world, Kenya requires to be more assertive and to take measures to wield unrivalled power and influence within the Eastern Africa region in order to make the existing system of collective security and hegemony in the region work. In doing so, it should take into account the delicate relationships within and between three global power blocs.
The first is the G7 bloc. This is an annual summit, harkening back to 1975, which brings together Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and collectively controlling more than 60 pc of global wealth. But the club is facing an existential crisis of vision, ideology and leadership.
With the election of President Donald Trump, global stability and the future of the liberal international order is increasingly uncertain, facing sustained assault by the forces of populism, isolationism and protectionism.
Trump refused to assent to the joint G7 communique that called for a “rules-based trading system” accusing other G7 members of “dishonesty” and of imposing “massive tariffs” on the US.
Despite the discord in the G7 house, President Uhuru Kenyatta believes that the G7 is still relevant as a partner for Africa. “Global partnerships on a win-win basis are necessary in tackling the capacity gaps the most afflicted countries face,” he told the Summit.
He used the forum to rally support for Kenya’s Big Four development agenda and to ask G7 nations to support the protection of oceans and seas by partnering with Kenya in hosting the first ever high-level conference on the Blue Economy in November 2017. “Your political will and decisive action are vital to driving this agenda”, he noted.
In this regard, he lobbied President Emmanuel Macron of France whose companies investing in Kenya have doubled to more than 120 in the last three years.
He persuaded German Chancellor Angela Merkel to support the Big Four Agenda. Germany has revived the Volkswagen plant in Thika. Its model for Technical Vocational Education and Training Institutions (Tvets) to promote technical skills severely short in the job market has become attractive.
Kenya – which hosted the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad VI), the first ever held on African soil, in 2017 – has also called on Japan to support its universal health care programmes and increase investments in infrastructure. Finally, its leadership is exploring quick gains in the aviation sector relating to Kenya Airways’ new route to New York, starting in October.
However, missing in the G7 Summit were resurgent Russia, Latin American regional powers (Brazil, Argentina and Mexico) and Asian giants including China and India.
These have constituted themselves into the second bloc. This is the China-led BRICS, a group of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa that started in 2009.
In the 21st century, the BRICS is conceptually anchored on China’s “peaceful development” strategy, which has given rise to President Xi Jinping’s doctrine of building a “community of shared destiny” as humanity’s safest pathway to peace and a common future of prosperity.
The “developmental peace” strategy finds its best practical expression in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), unveiled in 2013 as an innovative pathway to a shared future.
New railway lines in Kenya and Djibouti/Ethiopia are linking African countries, offering new platforms for cross-cultural exchanges and economic cooperation, connecting Africa to global markets and giving new impetus to globalisation.
In May 2018, Kenya joined the China-led 86-member Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), expected to open a new channel for cheaper financing of Nairobi’s Big Four Agenda. Kenya needs to deepen its role in BRICS to leverage its regional power.
The third is the African bloc based on a common history of slavery, partitioning, colonialism and neo-colonialism and ideologically united by pan-Africanism, and more recently by the idea of “African Renaissance” as vision of a civilisational and economic recovery and prosperity. Kenya’s vision 2030 and President Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda (housing, manufacturing, health care and food security) are part of this idea. Kenya is forging linkages with other regional powers like South Africa to bolster its Africa strategy. President Kenyatta and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who held talks on the sidelines of the G7 Summit, agreed to hold an investment conference in Nairobi in the last quarter of the year to promote intra-Africa investment.
President Kenyatta is expected to make a State visit to South Africa. Kenya’s ruling Jubilee party and ANC are deepening relations and inter-borrowing as nationalist parties committed to developmental ideology of pan-Africanism, African nationalism and developmental state.
As part of its commitment to the Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), agreed in Kigali this year, Kenya plans to open an embassy in Dakar, Senegal, within four months to boost trade and people ties and raise the level of Kenya’s engagement in West Africa.
But Kenya needs to strengthen its leadership in the African Union, the East African Community (EAC) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Prof Peter Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute.