NGUGI: Our foreign policy lacks values of democracy and justice; that is why we support dictators

Saturday January 11 2020

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma in February

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma in February. In a recent TV interview, Ms Juma explained that Kenya’s foreign policy was based on pan-Africanism. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

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Kenyan Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Monica Juma, is articulate, scholarly and dignified.

Her character and demeanour project a person of integrity. She is vastly knowledgeable about her docket, deconstructing complex geopolitical issues facing the world.

She is one person who can hold a debate pitting the brainiest diplomats in the world. And yet, she has failed to free Kenya’s foreign policy framework from the strictures of an increasingly vague and redundant ideology.

In a recent TV interview, Ms Juma explained that Kenya’s foreign policy was based on pan-Africanism.

Now, pan-Africanism has two ideological offshoots. The first advocates the solidarity of all peoples of African descent based on their race.

The other, influenced by Negritude thinkers like Cedar Senghor, argues that various races are naturally imbued with certain moral and intellectual characteristics.


Writes Senghor: “Reason is to Greek as emotion is to African”. In other words, the white race makes sense of the world by employing cold, calculating reason, while blacks navigate the world by use of an emotional and compassionate compass.

Another central argument of this conception of pan-Africanism is that the ambition of the white race is the destruction of black genius and civilisation. The black race, pan-Africanists argue, cannot develop within the thought processes and conceptual frameworks originating in the West.

Africa will only develop when she rediscovers her genius that built great civilisations in the past. This pan-Africanist vision is at once romantic, mythical, poetic and wild.

Writer and philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book, In my father’s House, has laid bare not only the falsehoods underlying these two offshoots of pan-Africanism but, more importantly, exposed how they hinder Africa’s socio-economic growth.

First, he discounts the pan-Africanist notion that races are biologically determined. Races, like tribes, Appiah argues, are not biological but social constructions. The idea that different races have special moral and intellectual attributes is based on a false biology.

It is a racist notion, whether advocated by whites or blacks. Solidarity based on race, Appiah further argues, obscures divisions of class, gender and privilege. He concludes: “African unity...needs more secure (more meaningful) foundations than race.”

So which brand of pan-Africanism was Monica Juma speaking of? I assume that she was referring to the idea of solidarity on the basis of race. But as Appiah has pointed out, this way of organising is not only based on a false assumption but has blinded us to the possibilities of organising on a more meaningful basis.

Africa’s post colonial history bears him out. For instance, Africa stood behind Idi Amin even as he slaughtered 300,000 Ugandans.

More recently, Africa failed to criticise the nationalist Hutu government of Juvenal Habyarimana even when it was clear his actions would lead to genocide.

Nelson Mandela is the only African leader to base his foreign policy, not on racial solidarity, but on justice and equity. When the rest of Africa expressed solidarity with Robert Mugabe and Sani Abacha, Mandela did not shy away from criticising their tyrannical regimes.

Kenya’s foreign policy from independence has been based on this racial solidarity that ignores questions of democratic governance, justice and equity.

We stand behind dictators who steal from their countries and keep Africa poor. We keep a studious silence in the face of gross human rights abuses on the continent.

We stood in solidarity with dictators advocating for Africa to exit the International Criminal Court. We never raised concern about the genocide in South Sudan orchestrated by Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. We do not ask why Africans are drowning in the seas to escape the continent.

Diplomatic influence and power come from having a foreign policy based on values of democracy and justice.

Mandela’s diplomatic influence emanated from his moral standing. Kenya should be campaigning for the United Nations Security Council seat on a platform of democracy and justice.

In her interview, Ms Juma did not imply, let alone say, that Kenya would use the UNSC seat to advocate for democratic, accountable and just governance in the world.

Ms Juma cannot change Kenya’s foreign policy to be a force for good in Africa and the world. She, like her predecessors, will continue to mindlessly sing the same pan-Africanist song even as we die in the seas while escaping from Africa.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.