China threat forces UK rethink of Kenya policy


UK High Commissioner to Kenya Christian Turner. FILE

Warned that it might lose its strategic position, the UK government has said that it will not impose any sanctions on Kenya for electing Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto as President and Vice President—citing commercial, military and strategic reasons.

The matter, which came out during a two-hour Kenya policy debate on Wednesday at the House of Commons, is the latest indicator of how London has reviewed its policy a few months after its Nairobi High Commission said it would maintain only “essential business” with a Mr Kenyatta government.

Both Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are facing crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court.

Like during the presidencies of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, the presence of British companies, the country’s strategic position in eastern Africa, and the training of 10,000 British troops every year continues to inform the UK diplomatic relations with Kenya.

Parliament was also informed that UK’s total trade exceeds £1 billion and exports rose by 38 per cent from 2010 to 2011 and that a substantial number of the largest taxpaying companies in Kenya were from the UK.

(Read: Sanctions would also hurt donor interests)

Before Alistair Burt, a Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stated the policy, members of parliament had voiced concerns that Kenya was an important ally and that China had started to have a heavy commercial and economic presence in Nairobi.

“I had the opportunity of being in Kenya last year, and China’s presence there was very apparent. China was deeply involved in massive road building...We should be doing that sort of construction work in Kenya.

“No disrespect to the Chinese, but why are we not there? ...we have many capable companies in the United Kingdom that could be given the contracts to improve accessibility to clean water right across Africa, and in particular in Kenya,” said Jim Shannon, a Democratic Unionist Party MP.

In his reply Mr Burt said that “the UK had never threatened sanctions against Kenya on this (election of Mr Kenyatta) issue... The people of Kenya should not be arbitrarily punished for the alleged crimes of their leaders.,” he said in a government statement.

While last October, the British High Commissioner to Kenya, Christian Turner, had warned in Nairobi that UK would only maintain “essential” contacts should Mr Kenyatta and his running mate get elected, the House of Commons was told that UK “will want to continue working with the next Government in Kenya; ... continue helping UK companies looking to invest in Kenya in support of Kenya’s Vision 2030; and to continue working together on security and stability in Somalia.”

The clarification came as a former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, said the US and Europe were playing dangerous diplomatic games for their delayed endorsement of Kenyatta’s presidency, warning that China was going to fill that void.

Already, the Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Liu Guangyuan and the Indian High Commissioner to Kenya Sibabrata Tripathi— among other non-Western nations—have paid courtesy calls on the President-elect whose election is being challenged by the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

“The geo-strategic environment has changed entirely and particularly (in favour of) China. The Chinese have changed the playing field (and) if the US, the UK and Europeans don’t want to deal with Uhuru Kenyatta, he has another option,” Ms Frazer told a US television station .

In British Parliament, the mover of the Motion told members that the evidence against Mr Kenyatta at the Hague came from a “compromised” source and urged the government not to leave its policy towards Kenya to be determined by “technicalities and bureaucratic processes” in the Hague.

“While the Minister cannot comment on the legal processes of the ICC, I simply flag up to him that it would be unconscionable if, for a considerable period, a cloud or a pall hung over the President of Kenya and the Government of Kenya, and indeed our relationship with Kenya, which is of such fundamental importance,” said Erik Joyce, an Independent and former Labour Party MP.

Another Member (Martin Horwood) told the House that Kenya’s economic growth of five per cent makes it “potentially a very valuable economic, trading and political partner for this country. I think that we would all want to see a process whereby Kenya moved from being an aid recipient.”

The government said that the British Army trains 10,000 British soldiers in Kenya every year, “and we have an excellent, long-standing relationship with the Kenyan armed forces and the local communities surrounding the training areas.

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