Ruto promises to play key role in EAC affairs
Kenyan President-elect William Ruto spoke in an interview with CNN on Wednesday about his foreign policy agenda, promising to increase the country's contribution to regional peace efforts.
Dr. Ruto, who is due to be sworn in on September 13, has not hinted at any major foreign policy shifts from the policies of his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta. The swearing-in event will take place at the Kasarani Sports Complex in Nairobi.
Dr. Ruto is taking on the mantle of leading Kenya amid challenges and opportunities in the country, region and greater Horn Africa.
He can take advantage of the diplomatic successes that his predecessor — Uhuru Kenyatta — has made in regional integration and put Kenya at the center of regional peace and security projects, or continue on its own path with a new political and economic broom.
In his political manifesto, Dr. Ruto says his Kenya Kwanza Alliance is committed to regional integration that will make Kenya an anchor state in the region.
“The Kenyan government of Kwanza will ensure that the country is respected and valued abroad. It will promote friendly relations with our neighbors, play a leading role in regional and pan-African affairs, cooperate with our international partners and defend our commitment to the international community,” the manifesto in the section on foreign policy reads.
The democratic Republic of the Congo is a challenge. While Uhuru pursued a policy of mitigating the conflict in the eastern DRC, Dr. Ruto begins with an ambiguous moment in his relations with the second largest country, Africa, and its leader Felix Tshisekedi.
President Kenyatta was one of the few African statesmen who attended President Tshisekedi's inauguration in Kinshasa at a time when other African leaders and the African Union (AU) doubted his victory against Martin Fayula.
Recently, President Kenyatta hosted heads of state of the East African Community to discuss the deteriorating security in eastern DR Congo and to insist on the actualization of the East African Reserve Force and deployment in DR Congo.
He has also committed himself to appeasement of the eastern part of DR Congo by sending 200 soldiers of the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) to neutralize the militias, causing chaos in civilian populations and threatening the presence of UN peacekeepers.
Dr. Ruto is expected to build on this relationship. Alluding to the separation of DR Congo's proximity to East African countries, Dr. Ruto raised eyebrows in Kenya and DR Congo in February when he mocked Congolese people in a comment outside the cuff that they were only good for wearing high-waisted pants but couldn't keep cows as an investment.
DR Congo's ambassador to Kenya, Francine Muyumba, took to Twitter to register her displeasure. The case was later cleared.
However, it is expected that Kenya, under the leadership of Dr. Ruto, will contact DR Congo not only because the latter is now a member of the East African Community or for the potential huge market it offers kenyan products, but also because several Kenyan companies such as Equity Group and KCB Group already operate there.
DR Congo potentially has enough hydropower to illuminate the continent under full operation, and has 11 major economic corridors that facilitate trade flows in the region, which are largely served by Kenya's Mombasa port.
But closer homeDr. Ruto begins with a clear collaboration with neighboring Uganda. He has a close relationship with President Yoweri Museveni, traveling to Uganda several times during his tenure as deputy president for personal affairs, as well as to discuss the EAC political federation and trade relations between the two countries.
The alleged link between Dr. Ruto and President Museveni forced Kenyan opposition leader Reila Odingu in January 2022 to accuse the Ugandan leader of seeking to influence the August 2022 election.
President Museveni, however, cleared the air by saying, “Elections in Kenya or any other African country are a matter for the people of this country. We never take the sidelines in the internal issues of other countries. So we don't have a side in kenya's elections.”
This week, President Museveni said he personally called Dr. Ruto to congratulate him after the Supreme Court's decision.
“I look forward to working with him to strengthen our strategic partnership in advancing the EAC agenda. May God bless the people of Kenya,” President Museveni tweeted. Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan and South Africa were also welcomed.
It is not yet known which artDr. Ruto will have a spree with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan and whether they will inflict the same understanding that existed with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Similarly, Dr. Ruto's relationship with Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Evariste Ndayshimiye of Burundi and Salva Kiir of South Sudan has not been tested, and his burden would be to open up to these three leaders.
But with the exception of disasters such as a series of terrorist attacks lying those that forced President Kenyatta's hand in the first months of his tenure, the future president is likely to find himself largely mired in home pressure to address current economic difficulties, consolidate power, push back against issues of national legitimacy, despite the favorable decision of the Supreme Court and the management of domestic policy, with an eye to his re-election in 2027.
The peaceful conclusion of the election, with the supreme court confirming Dr Ruto's victory on Monday, sparked optimistic forecasts for growth in the Kenyan economy. But he takes office, feeling the weight of expectations on his shoulders, running a populist campaign appealing to voters of the lower social class.
His first major challenge will be to deliver on his campaign promise to cut the cost of living within 100 days in an economy that has been hit in recent months by global supply chain disruptions related to Russia's war in Ukraine before it can fully recover from pandemic shocks.
The growing public debt, which is estimated to be close to 70 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), has also left the government with too little money to spend on social services such as health and education, as well as the development projects needed to create jobs.
World Bank data shows that Kenya's share of the jobless workforce has more than doubled to 5.7 percent over the past decade under President Kenyatta's administration, leaving the country with the highest unemployment rate.
While Dr. Ruto promised a bottom-up approach to economic transformation, no one will pursue a transformative economic policy to implement it.
However, Kenya's business community hopes Dr. Ruto will resolve trade disputes with EAC partners.
Simon Kaheru, vice chairman of the East African Business Council and head of Uganda's private sector, said: “I believe that the trade disputes that continue to erupt between countries cannot simply be attributed or resolved by presidents on their own.” Kenya and Uganda have long been at a standstill in the trade in milk, sugar, beef and poultry products. Kenya banned beef, milk and corn from Uganda, the latter based on high levels of aflatoxin.
Mr Kaheru said while Dr. Ruto is likely to play an important role in the integration of the EAC, the private sector and the EAC Secretariat play a greater role and duty to ensure the free movement of goods and services in the region.
Uhuru charm is offensive
Tanzania was the main beneficiary of Uhuru's charming offensive leadership, especially after President Samia became president. Therefore, it was surprising that shortly after the Supreme Court's decision on Monday, Tanzania cracked down on corn exports to Kenya, explaining that all exports from Tanzania must follow the procedure of state permits.
The Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement: “Tanzania has not banned the issuance of permits for the export of corn and does not plan to do so. Traders must follow crop export procedures, including securing permits for exports of crops that are issued free of charge,” Minister Hussein Bashé said on Wednesday. “Between August 27 and September 7, 2022, Tanzania issued permits for the export of corn for 37,450 tons of product.”
He explained that all exporters require an export permit and a phytosanitary certificate, and all foreign exporters are required to register their companies in Tanzania.
“The challenge is that people don't want to follow the procedures. Foreigners would like to arbitrarily enter farms in Tanzania and transport crops to their countries,” he said.
The circumstances of Dr. Ruto's election after bitter consequences with President Kenyatta and senior administration figures, as well as the post-election rhetoric of some of his political allies, point to perhaps the most radical government shake-up since the tense transition from Daniel Arapa Moi's regime to the Mwai Kibaki administration in 2003.
While cabinet changes are routine between administrations, the upcoming shake-up also has political overtones. Dr. Ruto publicly condemned a number of ministers for allegedly campaigning openly for his rival, Reila Oding. In addition, allegations by Dr. Ruto's legal team and Wafula Chebukati's election commission chairman that some senior security chiefs tried to block Ruto's victory have sparked speculation that radical changes in public affairs could extend to national security agencies.
Perhaps the clearest signal so far that Dr. Ruto intends to consolidate power is his quick move toward controlling parliament, where on Thursday his coalition won the posts of Speaker of the Senate and National Assembly, wooing lawmakers from reilly Asimio's coalition. This gives Ruto the power to control all legislative agendas.
After this third win over Reilly, he tweeted: “I congratulate the members of parliament for trusting Kenya to Kwanga to secure leadership in both chambers; a clear sign of our national support.”