On October 6, 2017, Kenya made a very powerful case for the independence of Western Sahara at the UN.
It was the kind of move that would ordinarily raise eyebrows among local foreign policy wonks. But it didn’t. At least not in Kenya; understandably so because the country was engrossed in the push and pull over the repeat elections whose results were announced on Monday.
On that day, Kenya’s Deputy Representative to the UN, Ambassador Koki Muli-Grignon in a no holds barred statement reminded the UN that Western Sahara is still under colonial rule because it is endowed with natural resources.
“How else do you explain the fact that 54 years after decision to decolonise Western Sahara, all efforts aimed at finding a lasting solution have so far failed to achieve the expected results?” wondered the ambassador during the general debate on the situation with regard to the implementation of the declaration of granting independence to colonial countries and peoples.
The ambassador asked the UN and the international community to support the AU process of ending the colonisation of Western Sahara.
“Both Kingdom of Morocco and Western Sahara are members of the AU and should engage in direct and serious talks without preconditions through the AU High Representative for Western Sahara,” she said.
Kenya is an ally for the Polisario, the political organisations of the people of Western Sahara fighting for independence. In fact, Kenya hosts Western Sahara’s embassy against the wishes of Morocco.
But that is not say Kenya’s position on Western Sahara has been coherent and clear.
A disturbing aspect of Kenya’s stands is the trading relations with the colonising force of Western Sahara. In the last couple of years, Kenya has fallen to the charm offensive of the Kingdom of Morocco.
In 2013, Kenya became the first East African country to sign bilateral trade agreements with Morocco opening the way for the North Africa country to normalise relations with other African countries even as it continues to forcefully occupy Western Sahara.
By entering the agreement with a colonising power, Kenya lost an important lever it could have used as a pressure point to help in the liberation of Western Sahara.
The Western Sahara position may appear like an isolated case in our foreign policy where intentions do not match intentions. But it is not.
In terms of intentions, Kenya has been vocal in the support of the liberation of Chagos Islands from the British and American occupying forces.
But the actions to back the intentions have been less than impressive. Kenya is US biggest ally in the Indian Ocean Coast. US military depends on Kenya for logistical support even as it continues to occupy Chagossians’ land illegally a situation that weakens the East African nation’s bargaining power.
Chagossians were evicted by the British colonial masters between 1967 and 1973 to give away to United States military to build a military base on their land.
The mismatch between intention and action is also evident in the Kenya’s position on the international place of Kiswahili.
On paper, Kenya’s foreign policy states that the country will use its resources and personnel to promote the use of Kiswahili as an international language.
But the country lags behind in making steps to promote the use of Swahili domestically compared to its East African partner states. For example, its bureaucrats are more comfortable preparing government documents in English or any other language but would not write a single page of a policy document in Kiswahili.
Imagine the pride that would engulf the nation if President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the British Parliament and addressed it Kiswahili. Or Uhuru addressed a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Swahili. Addressing the African Union in Kiswahili would be a revolutionary act. It would be the second African language with official status at the continental body after Amharic.
But no! When in foreign missions, Kenya government delegations speak in English as a matter of course and not Kiswahili. That applies to official documents with foreign governments.
In other words, although Kenya has written foreign policy, it appears the unwritten foreign policy is more entrenched in practise that the intentions of the written one keep evaporating.
Yet nothing unites and promotes nationalism in a country more than language. Our language is Swahili and that is precisely why the foreign policy architects thought it important to promote it as an international language.
But it appears we have to wait for intentions to be matched with actions at MOFA (ministry of foreign affairs) before Kenya can enjoy a place of pride in international affairs.
The writer is the editor at http://moneyandmarkets.co.ke He is a communist and a member of the Social Democratic Party of Kenya (SDP). He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org or +254 710 188 066