President Ruto: The Kenya I Want
President William Ruto of Kenya has not always been regarded as having a strong foreign and regional strategy.
President William Ruto of Kenya has not always been regarded as having a strong foreign and regional strategy. However, 100 days into his first term, he can boast of numerous accomplishments: He has met with every head of state in the Horn of Africa, promising cooperation to address long-standing issues like violence and starvation, as well as business.
Dr. Ruto was elected in September of last year as an underdog with an undefined foreign policy. His predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, rose from an isolated suspect of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (where Dr Ruto was also prosecuted) to a Western favorite due to his charisma and charm in tackling regional security and integration challenges.
This week, however, during a televised joint interview with Kenyan media at State House, Nairobi, President Ruto spoke passionately about his regional plan.
“You know that we are mobilising the region as well as international support for our regional peace initiatives to make sure our region is stable so that we can drive our economy,” he said on Wednesday night. “I spoke with the President of Sudan (junta leader Lt-Gen Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan) and agreed with him that it is time to have an Igad (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) meeting for us to help our brothers and sisters in South Sudan.”
President Ruto gave a marathon of speeches and excursions throughout his first 100 days in office. He completed a regional circle by visiting Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Eritrea. Outside of Africa, he traveled to the United States and South Korea (he had already visited the United Kingdom for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral).
On the surface, that cannot be considered a success, especially because leaders frequently gather for picture shoots. However, in the next 10 days, Dr. Ruto could take over as chairman of the Igad Summit, the regional union of Horn of Africa countries.
According to diplomatic sources, President Ruto’s aims in Igad are twofold: to have an active rotational leadership that will make an impact in the region, and to re-admit Eritrea. Asmara is theoretically a member of Igad, but she has been boycotting meetings in order to protest apparent prejudice against the organization.
“Isolating one member will not solve the difficulties we confront today. “In our experience, problems are solved when people talk about them and share ideas,” says a senior government official, commenting on the record because the issue has not yet been brought before the Igad leaders. “Whether it’s Eritrea, Sudan, or South Sudan, we’re saying we have common challenges. We must collaborate.”
Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Uganda are the other members of Igad. Igad, which is now led by Sudan, has been unable to present a clear timeline of events because Khartoum is still in upheaval following the October 2021 coup that brought the governing military class to power. Sudan is still suspended from the African Union, which technically prevents it from playing regional roles.
The Igad Summit has not yet been put in stone, but a source has stated that it will take place in the third week of January.
The Summit will address South Sudan’s worrisome clashes. However, it is possible that Ruto’s project to lead a regional body will be a diplomatic success. However, it may be beneficial to others.
The Kenyan leader’s visit to Asmara on December 10, 2022, and meeting with President Isaias Afwerki was the first indication of Kenya’s desire for Eritrea to rejoin the regional fold. Prior to it, President Isaias met with leaders of Sudan and Somalia, and he was accused of deploying troops to Ethiopia to target Tigrayan civilians, for which Eritrea was roundly denounced by the West.
Following his visit to Asmara, President Ruto flew to Washington for the US-Africa Summit, where he urged the US to “create a win-win formula with Africa.”
Dr. Ruto stated at a side event that Africa should be viewed as an investment destination rather than just a market. However, he added a caveat: cooperation with Africa may not succeed if it is based on selective criteria, especially given that the majority of Africa’s problems are interconnected. He requested support for the African Union’s Agenda 2063, an unified vision for a wealthy, more integrated, and peaceful continent.
Three weeks later, Eritrean troops trapped in Tigray began to depart the battlefront, a vital situation that has resulted in the reconstruction of Ethiopia’s war-torn territory.
Kenya’s National Security Adviser, Dr Monica Juma, stated at the time that Nairobi saw the Horn as a whole.
“Kenya’s commitment to increasing regional cooperation is strong and central to President William Ruto’s administration. Because our stability and prosperity are intrinsically linked to each and every one of our neighbors,” she tweeted after Sudanese military officials agreed to resume discussions with civilian movements on a transitional administration.
“Kenya confirms its continuous solidarity and support to these peaceful measures, whose success will assure the prosperity of our region. Our dedication to a peaceful and secure region is unwavering since our fates are inexorably connected.”
According to President Ruto, Kenya’s benefits extend beyond the Horn of Africa. He stated that he will continue to assist peace initiatives in Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, citing the importance of regional peace and stability to Kenya’s own stability.
“As you know, Kenya has the largest economy in this area, and we have a vested interest in the region’s stability,” he remarked on Wednesday. “If this region becomes unstable, our economy would suffer the most.”
Dr. Ruto stated his intention to be present on the regional front, stating that the presence of Kenyan troops in eastern DRC was part of the regional plan to ensure peace in the region.
“As we have our own military in DRC, I am in daily contact with the President of DRC (Felix Tshisekedi). We are assisting in the stabilization of that region. Uganda and South Sudan both have forces on the ground to keep the peace in the region. As a result, regional peace is a critical component of our economy.”
Some experts believe Dr. Ruto’s idea is premature, notwithstanding the evident motivation: financial interests.
“I believe it is still in a wait-and-see mentality at this moment. Because there isn’t enough proof of growing Kenyan commerce in the DRC, for example,” said Dr. Hawa Noor, a research associate fellow at the University of Bremen’s Institute for Intercultural and International Studies.
“Of course, the ultimate goal is to end the war, but it is appropriate to judge the KDF’s role with financial interests in the back of the mind. Another motive for involvement is Ruto’s administration’s optimism that international partners will chip in to settle bills. In other terms, it is everything but a humanitarian act to end the war.”
Dr. Ruto maintained his predecessor Kenyatta as the peace envoy to the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa when he assumed the presidency, allowing the former president to continue to chair regional peace initiatives that he managed while in power.
“Aside from that, we need to settle this region so that the East African Community may become a legitimate market for our exports,” said the president. “We are having a major conversation about the industrial city in Naivasha, about our manufacturing, about all the various things that we are working on. Those goods must be exported somewhere.”
He stated that Kenya needs a market for its agricultural products and that the EAC is appropriate for providing that market.
“We are looking at how we cultivate our agricultural, processing our tea or coffee, where are we selling this product? We have to be interested in doing so.”
A foreign policy expert stated that Dr. Ruto may not be such a newcomer after all, given that he has been in politics since the days of President Daniel Moi, who aided his political rise.
“Moi was not simply a Kenyan president, he was also driven by a desire to be seen as an African leader. Ruto may have learned a thing or two from him. As Kenya’s president, your influence must be felt, especially if you are a woman.
Moi used to refer to Kenya as a “island of tranquility,” owing to the country’s long period of one-party rule. According to the expert, a peaceful region avoids the responsibility of receiving refugees. Dr. Ruto’s role, he claimed, can also be a subtle instrument used by the West, which is increasingly fearful of being seen to boss African governments around.
“You are more likely to heed your brother’s advice than someone scolding you from overseas.”
Concerning Somalia, the president stated that he is eager to collaborate with the present leader, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, to promote peace and a successful war against al Shabaab.
“We are not only collaborating with the president of Somalia, but we are also extremely pleased that he is now uniting even with the regional presidents in Somalia so that we can jointly combat the threat posed by al Shabaab,” added Ruto.
“We are delighted that there is at least some coordination and consensus. And we believe that al Shabaab is just as much of a problem for Somalia as it is for us. We can’t afford to turn our heads. We can’t afford to give up now. That problem must be overcome.