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Kenya - Foreign Relations

Nairobi continues to be the primary hub of East Africa. It enjoys the region's best transportation linkages, communications infrastructure, and trained personnel. A wide range of foreign firms maintain regional branch or representative offices in the city. Despite internal tensions in Sudan and Ethiopia, Kenya has maintained good relations with them. Relations with Uganda and Tanzania are strengthening as the three countries work for mutual economic benefit.

In March 1996, the Presidents of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda re-established the East African Cooperation (EAC). The EAC's objectives include harmonizing tariffs and customs regimes, free movement of people, and improving regional infrastructures. The new East African Community (EAC) was formally launched in January 2001. It has a parliament, the East African Legislative Assembly, and a secretariat in Arusha (Tanzania). A Customs Union protocol, signed in 2004, came into effect on 1 January 2005.

As a member of IGAD (comprising Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan), Kenya has played a key mediation role in the Sudan and Somali peace talks.

Kenya's economy, infrastructure, and relative stability make it an influential player in the region. Kenya played an active role in the negotiations to resolve the civil war in Sudan and has long been engaged in working to address instability in Somalia. On January 9, 2005 a Sudan North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi. In July 2011, South Sudan became an independent state. Negotiations in the Somali National Reconciliation Conference resulted at the end of 2004 in the establishment of Somali Transitional Federal Institutions (Assembly, President, Prime Minister, and Government). Until early 2005, Kenya served as a major host for these institutions.

Between May and June 2005, members of the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions relocated to Somalia. Faced with what it perceived as an untenable threat to its security and economy as a result of high-profile incidents involving kidnap and murder of European tourists, on October 16, 2011, Kenya sent military forces into Somalia seeking to push back extremist elements. Kenya has long borne a significant security and humanitarian burden resulting from two decades of instability in Somalia. By 2012 Kenya was host to more than 600,000 refugees, most of whom were from Somalia.

Kenya's relations with Western countries are generally friendly, although current political and economic instabilities are sometimes blamed on Western pressures.

Kenya's decision to suspend relations with Western Sahara in favor of relations with Morocco wasn't easy to do, very delicate, because Western Sahara is a member of the African Union and Morocco is not. It was imperative, however, because Morocco offered another sizeable market.

By 2007 Kenya had ambitious plans to open a number of diplomatic missions around the world. The overriding goal of Kenyan diplomacy was to promote economic development through greater market access and increased investment and remittances. Africa had replaced Europe as the chief preoccupation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kenya's prime motivation for its active involvement in settling conflicts in Sudan and Somalia was the potential market these countries offer should conditions there normalize. The politics of the region too often hinder trade. Kenya seeks to avoid seriously annoying anyone so as to keep the door open to business interests.

Aside from trade promotion, Kenya's second diplomatic priority was safeguarding long-term strategic interests, especially water. In that regard, Kenya placed a high value on the discussions held under the auspices of the Nile Basin Initiative, which is an organization that brings together all ten Nile riparian states. Kenya had made huge strides in recent years in its relations with Egypt as concerns Nile waters (including Lake Victoria), opening the Egyptian market, and receiving development assistance (school construction, provision of medical doctors).

China opened their market to Kenyan goods and made tremendous contributions to infrastructure, building roads, schools, wells and many other projects. Jia Qinglin, Chairman of the People's Political Consultative Conference and fourth ranking member of the Chinese leadership, visit Kenya on 04 April 2007 to meet President Kibaki and open a Chinese-built road. The Chinese are purchasing office space, not renting. This indicates that they plan to continue at this pace over the long-term.

Investment by Chinese firms in Kenya has yielded less-spectacular results, partly because it doesn't make much economic sense for Chinese manufacturers to produce in Kenya what they can more cheaply export from home. In part as a result, bilateral trade relations are heavily skewed in China's favor, and there is a great deal of fear and concern in Kenya about China's competitiveness, especially in Kenya's once-fledgling garment sector.

Much is made in the Western press of China's relentless pursuit of Africa's natural resources. Beyond its natural beauty and wildlife resources and the recent revelation that an Australian company will be drilling exploratory wells off the Kenyan coast, Kenya lacks significant natural resource deposits.

China's willingness to play ball without concern for governance and corruption issues is in fact a problem, not an advantage. As one local columnist put it, China's "non-interference foreign policy does not encourage financial probity, political reform, and observance of human rights. Its only condition is support for the 'One China' principle."

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Page last modified: 10-05-2015 19:45:02 ZULU