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Strategic Posture Review: Kenya

Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014

After winning Kenya’s March 2013 presidential election, President Uhuru Kenyatta inherited the difficult task of leading East Africa’s most significant diplomatic and economic actor while simultaneously awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The charges, for alleged crimes against humanity, stemmed from Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections. Given Kenya’s historically strong ties to the West, the charges against Kenyatta and his deputy president, William Ruto, forced the new Jubilee coalition government onto an immediate diplomatic tightrope—one defined by an all-consuming campaign to weaken international support for the trials, while maintaining enough continuity of engagement with the West to prevent international pariah status.

In addition to navigating the delicate ICC process, the Kenyatta government assumed oversight of Kenya’s growing role in the maintenance of regional security, highlighted by the country’s 2011 invasion of Somalia and the continued participation of 5,500 Kenyan troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Despite hosting Africa’s United Nations headquarters and serving as a regional hub for commerce, infrastructure, transport and humanitarian operations, Kenya has long maintained a modest regional geostrategic footprint, pursuing a policy of nonintervention and “good neighborliness,” while earning a reputation as an “unwilling regional power.” However, rising security threats from Somalia and growing economic confidence—buttressed by regional integration, the discovery of oil in 2012 and increasingly robust economic ties with China and other emerging markets—have pushed the country toward a stronger projection of power. The September 2013 attack by the Somali militant group al-Shabab on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, launched in retaliation for Kenya’s military presence on Somali soil, highlights Kenya’s ongoing security challenges, which both drive the country’s increasingly outward-looking posture and threaten its bold plans for further economic and infrastructural development. ...

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