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Shifting priorities: Kenya’s changing approach to peacebuilding and peacemaking


by Claire Mc Evoy

Kenya’s traditional low-risk, non-interventionist approach to peacebuilding and peacemaking, which is grounded in “good neighbourliness” and respect for national sovereignty, shifted dramatically in October 2011 with its unprecedented military operation in Somalia. This shift is underpinned by its growing confidence as an emerging East African power, coupled with a heightened interest in protecting its (economic) interests at home. Kenya is currently at the heart of an unprecedentedly successful military effort to stabilise Somalia, in combination with a high-risk, regional and global, multifaceted diplomatic stabilisation effort. As Mogadishu seeks to exert control over the creation of a federal state in Jubbaland, the multilateral Intergovernmental Authority on Development stabilisation effort has been sidelined. Kenya is widely perceived as having vested interests in the area. Kismayo port, considered an economic hub in the region, risks becoming the centre of a prolonged inter-clan struggle. As part of a “whole of Somalia” stabilisation approach, it is essential for Nairobi to balance its legitimate interests in Jubbaland with its relations with the Mogadishu government. It is in a unique position to mediate between the government and the interim administration in Kismayo, but needs to mend its own relations with the government in order to do so. Kenya’s potential as a regional peacebuilder using both soft and hard power is on trial, and this will determine its future foreign policy trajectory.