Is this the end of Kenya’s regional influence?

Wednesday December 13 2023

President William Ruto (L) and the First Lady Rachel acknowledge greetings from President Yoweri Museveni (R) during the Uganda's 60th Independence Day celebrations at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala, Uganda in October 2022. PHOTO | PSCU


The failure of leaders from neighbouring countries and abroad to attend the Jamhuri Day celebrations in Nairobi has raised questions about the Kenya Kwanza government's foreign policy and relations with its immediate neighbours in East Africa.

The leaders' failure to honour Kenya's invitation is in stark contrast to President William Ruto's visits to other countries.

On August 14, Ruto travelled to Uganda and held a closed-door meeting with his host President Yoweri Museveni and on September 7, he landed in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania at the invitation of President Samia Suluhu to attend the 13th Africa Food Systems Summit.

Read: Leaders blame food insecurity on bad policies

On October 27, the Kenyan leader honoured an invite and attended a climate conference in Congo Brazavile.

Last week, he was in Djibouti for an Igad event after jetting in from India where he was on a state visit. He has recently visited France and Germany.


On Sunday, the government through Internal Security Principal Secretary Dr Raymond Omollo, announced that three foreign leaders would attend the 60th Jamhuri Day celebrations at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi.

Although he did not name the leaders and their countries, it was expected that they would at least come from the regional bloc - the East African Community (EAC) - whose member states are not only Kenya's neighbours but also economically and socially linked to Kenya.

But not a single leader from these countries attended the ceremony, including the chairman of the EAC-President Salvar Kiir of South Sudan.

Even Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who visited the country on Monday evening, did not attend the ceremony as widely expected.

Read: Kenya, Belarus vow to boost ties as Minsk seeks African allies

State broadcaster Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) had reported that President Lukashenko, who met President Ruto at State House in Nairobi on Monday, was expected to grace the Jamhuri Day celebrations.

"Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and his Ethiopian counterpart Sahle Work Zewde have already arrived in the country as guests of President William Ruto for this year's Jamhuri Day celebrations marking 60 years of independence," KBC reported online.

State House did not confirm whether the Belarusian leader was invited to the celebration. Leaders of neighbouring countries sent low-cadre officials to represent them at the event, unlike President Ruto who personally honours foreign invitations.

Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu sent Zanzibar's President Hassan Mwinyi, who said during his speech at Uhuru Gardens that the leader of Kenya's southern neighbour "could not attend because floods caused by El Niño rains had wreaked havoc in the north of our country."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who was invited to Tuesday's event, chose to send the country's deputy prime minister- Rebecca Kadaga, while Burundian President General Évariste Ndayishimiye was represented by his Vice President- Prosper Bazombanza.

President Museveni spent his Tuesday launching the sixth national census in his country.

Other EAC presidents Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Kiir (South Sudan), Félix Antoine Tshisekedi (DRC) and Somalia's Hassan Sheikh Mohamud were absent, while Ethiopia continued its tradition of sending President Sahle-Work Zewde to represent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Read: Kenya's competitiveness falling as neighbours rise

President Zewde said she had attended Kenya's Jamhuri Day celebrations in Nairobi for eight years.

Diplomatic expert James Waki says foreign leaders don't need to attend in person when invited by other countries to grace a national event, although their presence is often seen as a sign of goodwill.

"Invitations are sent, but the decision to attend rests with the invited leaders. They can attend in person or send a delegation led by an official of their choice. However, their attendance is usually perceived as an affirmation that their relationship with the country inviting them is strong," he said.