Kenya’s diplomatic prowess soared in 2015, making it a diplomatic hub in the region and the globe. The country hosted the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) from June 23 to 27, 2015. It was the first UN high level meeting to be held in a developing country. UNEA is the highest-level platform for decision making on environment. Its goal is to plan how the international community addresses environmental sustainability challenges.
The summit brought together UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, President of the UN General Assembly, ministers of environment and foreign affairs from UN member states. Over 1,200 high level participants from government, business and civil society organizations also attended.
Nairobi hosts two UN headquarters, UN-Habitat and United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), making it the only UN head quarter located in the global South. Other UN Agencies global headquarters are based in developed countries; in Geneva (Switzerland), New York (USA), Paris (France), Rome (Italy), and Vienna (Austria).
In July 2015, Nairobi hosted the USA President Barack Obama during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). The high-level meeting was held for the first time in Sub-Sahara Africa and Obama was the first sitting USA president to visit Kenya.
During Obama’s visit, trade agreements worth 1.2 trillion were signed by USA and Kenya. Short term visas required by Kenyans intending to visit America were extended from two years to five years. The move was to promote bilateral trade, tourism and enhance cooperation between the two countries.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), was renewed for another ten year term by President Obama in June 2015. The pact allows African countries to export over 8,000 products without paying taxes to the vast American market. Kenya is a beneficiary of the agreement with thousands employed in the textile and agricultural sectors. In 2015 Kenya emerged as Africa’s largest apparel exporter to USA.
In November, the head of Catholic Church and Vatican City State, Pope Francis visited Kenya. It was his first African tour since he was elected on March 2013. During his three day visit he met leaders from government, opposition, youth and leaders from diverse faiths. The Pope also addressed weighty issues like corruption, tribalism, social injustice and climate change.
At the end of the year, Kenya successfully hosted the 10th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in December 2015. The ministerial conference is the highest decision making organ in WTO and it brought more than 7,000 delegates in Nairobi.
In addition, Kenya has exerted peace diplomacy in resolving conflicts in East Africa and the Great Lakes region. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn played a significant role in the South Sudan’s peace process. The protagonists in the conflict, President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr Riek Machar signed the peace agreement on August 26 2015 after a 20 month civil war.
However, President Kenyatta has been criticized for making 43 foreign trips in three years of his presidency, as compared to his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, who undertook 33 foreign trips during his ten year reign. Government insiders have defended Uhuru’s trips arguing that they are necessary in attracting foreign direct investment and promoting friendly relations between Kenya and other states. Deputy president William Ruto has supported his boss saying that the trips have contributed to Kenya getting a positive profile internationally. “The President goes for the meetings because it is necessary, because of the visits; Kenya is getting a new profile,” Ruto said. Overall, Uhuru’s foreign trips have contributed to Kenya’s global ranking as a major destination for investors.
Kenya’s role in formulating Sustainable Development Goals
Kenya was feted for its role in the formulation of Post-2015 development agenda process. Amb Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s permanent representative to UN in New York, facilitated the inter-governmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and co-chaired the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.
The Post 2015 development agenda was adopted by 193 UN member states in September during United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). It took two years to negotiate and come up with the 17 goals that aim to tackle climate change, inequality, poverty and hunger by 2030.
Consequently, Amb Macharia Kamau was awarded with the prestigious Elizabeth Haub Award for his extraordinary leadership and personal commitment to the negotiations and adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Tactful negotiations safeguard Kenya’s interests
Kenya’s diplomatic circles have been lauded for impeccable negotiation skills that have ensured the country’s national interests are realized. After years of protracted negotiations, Kenya and the United Kingdom signed a deal to allow British troops to continue training in Kenya for the next five years. The stalemate was unlocked after Kenya’s demands for prosecution of errant British soldiers who commit crime in the country, were incorporated.
The new Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed by Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo and UK High Commissioner to Kenya, Nic Hailey on December 9 2015. The deal stipulates that Kenyan law will apply on British soldiers that commit crimes whilst off duty. Conversely, if the crime is committed by a soldier while on duty then the UK military law will apply, and the proceedings will be held in Kenya.
The British Army Training Unit in Kenya (BATUK) is a permanent training base that trains over 10,000 British troops annually. It is based in Nanyuki and has existed since pre-independence era.
Diplomatic prospects in 2016
Japan announced that Kenya will host the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in 2016. It will be the first time the conference will be held outside Japan. Mr Mikio Mori, Japan’s Deputy Ambassador to Kenya, took pride with Kenya’s capability as a host, “There are not many countries which can host a conference of such magnitude and it is an honor that Kenya was picked out of all the countries in Africa.”
TICAD was established by the Government of Japan in 1993, as a forum to discuss the future development of Africa. The conference is co-organized by the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and African Union Commission.
In July 2016, Kenya is also expected to host the 14th session of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Certainly, 2015 was a year of grand diplomatic success for Kenya. The government should now ensure that all the bilateral agreements that were signed, are fully implemented in order to achieve maximum results. Similarly, Kenya’s top diplomats should continue to push for approval of direct flights between Nairobi and USA. The realization of direct flights will bring many business opportunities and intensify growth in the tourism sector. Currently South Africa Airways is the only African airline that is certified to have direct flights to USA.