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National Interests Paramount in Kenya-South Africa Relations

By   /  June 26, 2010  /  1 Comment

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The Kenyan Government in its early stage of independence showed commitment to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) course of eradicating apartheid and racial discrimination in South Africa.

In pursuit of its commitment to the isolation of South Africa, Kenya did not fully implement the economic embargo on South Africa as business interests still flourished among the two countries.

Kenya’s Government failed to exert enough pressure against South African regime over its apartheid policy for many years in various international fora .While Kenya supported OAU resolutions which prohibited any kind of interaction with South Africa, prominent Government officials still continued to act in a way which compromised its position.

Throughout the Kenyatta regime, Professor Godfrey Okoth says, the Kenyan Government remained steadfast in its support for the international resolutions taken on South Africa. However, in practice, it acted in a way which suggested that in matters pertaining to its national interests, it would eschew any kind of confrontation.

President Moi also underscored Kenya’s commitment to the liberation of Southern African States from colonialism and racial discrimination, with the support of international sanctions and isolation of South Africa.

However, Kenya could not risk political isolation from European states which were trading partners of South Africa by implementing economic sanctions against the racist regime since the action would have been injurious to its economy.

During Moi’s regime, Professor Okoth adds, the Kenya Government fully backed the resolutions and ties arrived at in the United Nations (UN) and OAU fora. On implementation, Kenya only pursued the ones that it did not undermine its core interests.

In 1990, genuine political change swept across South Africa disregarding the white minority rule. This was possible due to popular resistance, international pressure and state policy which were driven by social anger and political alienation, endemic unrests, international isolation and economic pressure.

Kenya broke ranks with OAU in the same year by making official contact with South Africa. After the release of Nelson Mandela in 1991, Kenya allowed South African Airways to land in Nairobi despite African National Congress’s (ANC’s) call for maintaining economic boycott until the structure of apartheid was dismantled. Even before the conclusion of reforms in South Africa, Kenya invited President Fredrick de Klerk in June 1991.

Kenya therefore had chosen to pursue its national interests contrary to the continental agreement towards quicker apartheid free South Africa. Earlier than 1990, South African citizens were issued with visas to visit Kenya while Kenya’s senior officials visited South Africa.

The Professor of History and International Relations also points out that Kenya facilitated South Africa’s linkage to the external world by allowing European airlines to refuel in Nairobi on their way to and from South Africa.

It is also recorded that the first South African plane landed in Nairobi in December 1990 after a period of 25 years, as Kenya’s high level delegation visited South Africa in July 1991.Therefore, the white supremacist rule came to an end in South in April 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected the first South African black President.

In the wider perspective, Kenya was consistent in its payment of contributions to the OAU Liberation Committee based in Dar-es-Salaam, but it declined to support the Front Line States by not granting them training and military facilities to the Liberation Army.

Kenya also opposed the use of armed struggle or guerrilla warfare in South Africa, but preferred peaceful and “legal” transformation of the country in the fields of politics, sports and commerce.

Kenya-South Africa relations were therefore based mainly on their mutual interests, and generally the activities which were harmless to their national interests. Their economic and political interests no doubt transcended the continental political interest.

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Mr. Joseph Kipkoech, Expert in International Affairs, History, Media and Politics

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