At the time of Uhuru in December 1963,it was already evidence that Kenya’s foreign policy would be affected by both national and systemic variables. First and foremost, national security and unity were already being threatened by secessionist movements in the Northern Frontier District, now North Eastern Province. The national security and the defense of territorial integrity were the twin determinants of Kenya’s foreign policy. In this regard I therefore ask, Is the same ideology exists within Kenya’s foreign policy?
The violence that has flared up between the Turkana and Merille along the Kenyan border with Ethiopia in the recent past has seen the rise in popular agitation for military solutions to violations of Kenya’s territorial integrity.
From the Prime Minister to MPs, to ordinary folk, we are hearing voices of like never before. Military solutions as the only remedy to calm our territorial violation from our neighbours. Suddenly, the fact that our soldiers are not engaged in any war is turned into an accusation of complacence. Lest we be carried away and think through our options before making potentially dangerous statements as if we are at war with our neighbours.
Our armed forces exist as the ultimate guarantor of our national integrity. If all else fails, it is expected the armed forces will need to be deployed to protect our territory. But to assess situational relevance of military intervention requires that we understand specific conditions we are dealing with. We should understand all instruments of foreign policy before agitating for a military solution. For instance economic and diplomatic instruments to reduce the intense pressure between the borders. Kenya as a littoral state we do have the capacity to influence most of the East African region diplomacy and effective manage chaos within the region without any military instrument to shore up states. Kenya military from the time of independence has been known to be the most professionals within the region unlike other countries like Uganda were the military is an instrument of authoritarian leaders to maintain power or quench civilian riots within.
Along the Ethiopia border, Merille nomads have forcefully settled in Turkana territory. Before we raise war cries, we must remember that the history and practice of nomadic pastoralism has always entailed large groups of herdsmen moving across national borders according to the pastoral resource map of the different seasons.
Drought has often seen sections of Turkana and Pokot move to neighboring countries. They have on occasion used arms against their hosts. Local politicians will raise war cries about foreign invasion into their territory. But they know that their own people are often the invaders when resources are better across the border.
What is required is a combination of disarming the scarcity-induced visiting tribesmen and reinforcing more peaceful sharing of cross-border pasture and water resources than crying wolf as if the Merille cousins of the Turkana have been sent by Menes Zenawi to start war with Kenya.
Violence in Turkana is a product of resource competition between communities that have traditionally shared the joy and pain of pastoralism. Therefore the military should be the last resort in any conflict resolution of any state as the military are only trained to kill in order to restore peace. The current uprising within the Arab nations and the UN invasion in the disputed election in Nigeria and the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa are exemples of military solution.
In sum, Kenya should not get stuck with the overplayed “non-interference, good neighborliness’ and respect for territorial integrity” record. These frameworks do not in themselves constitute foreign policy. Beyond that Kenya needs to reengineer its foreign policy to take care of the changing world order since the Head of state is not a nagging micro – manager.
By Ombado Obado