Ruto gaffe on SADR demands experts at the foreign office

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022 19:46 | By
President William Ruto signs a condolence book for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the United Kingdom High Commissioner’s Residence, Muthaiga, Nairobi county yesterday as  the British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott witnesses. PSCU

When I cautioned the new administration to take care of the pitfalls in foreign affairs, I may as well could have foreseen the goof around the new president’s controversial statement on the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) last week. President William Ruto backtracked on Kenya’s position that recognises SADR and even intimated closing the SADR mission in Nairobi.

Later in a swift rejoinder, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs retracted Ruto’s position and restated Kenya’s commitment to abiding by the statutes on both the African Union and the United Nations on the SADR. But the damage had already been done, leaving Kenya thoroughly embarrassed.

Ruto could have been reacting to a complaint that he recognised the SADR president and ignored the Moroccan Foreign Minister (FM) during his inauguration. Experts say the subsequent action of receiving the latter official in State House and denouncing the SADR was aimed at assuaging the ego of the Moroccans who are reportedly exporting cheap fertilizer to Kenya. It was akin to throwing the SADR under the bus. The president could also have mixed up the SADR issue with Kenya’s stand on Somaliland, which has been seeking “independence” from Somalia. Kenya does not recognise Somaliland as an autonomous territory.  I believe this needless embarrassment would have been avoided had the president spared a few minutes to get a briefing by the African desk at the Foreign Ministry. The president’s advisers must allow him to consult even those who he may not feel like due to certain political baggage. It could save him from such sticky situations that portray him negatively.

The incident also puts to the test Ruto’s seriousness or sincerity in requesting his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, to act as his envoy on Africa’s peacekeeping missions. He could just have placed a call to Kenyatta who could have guided him well with his 10 years’ experience handling such delicate foreign relations.

Well, the damage has been done and now is the time to do some crisis, or is it reputational management. Kenya cannot afford to continue mishandling foreign relations lest it loses friends who it might desperately need to support its cause in the future.

Ruto can recover the goodwill that was eroded by reaching out and offering an olive branch to those whose sensibilities have been smothered. Indeed, a State visit would not be too much to ask for if we value the partnerships. 

We need to continue with the non-aligned policy when it comes to dealing with the internal affairs of other countries. Kenya has eschewed conflict with its neighbours even under extreme provocation for the sake of peace and security.

We need to put something straight about the lives of our former leaders in order to stop propagating a misconception. Apart from former president Uhuru, all other Kenyan presidents have been hustlers. Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki lived their early years in poverty.

Kenyatta Snr was a real street smart survivor, with early accounts of his life concealed to avoid sounding disrespectful. Moi and Kibaki were born into peasant families and it was only through the intervention of missionaries that they received life changing education. I dare say that the former diehard presidents have also been an inspiration to Ruto. 

The main difference between the latter and the trio is that the incumbent wears his poor background as a badge of honour. He speaks about it openly and has effectively used it as a campaign strategy. He is also an inspiration to millions. But even when it comes to leadership, Uhuru did not get it on a silver platter either. Ultimately, he was his own man and has eschewed positioning himself as the scion of Kenya’s first president. But yes, the days of dynastic rise to leadership in Kenya are over.

— The writer is a PhD student in international relations

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