Bashir's visit to Kenya was a blessing to the region
By MACHARIA MUNENE (email the author)
Posted Saturday, August 28 2010 at 15:41
Sudanese leader joined Kenyans yesterday-August 27, 2010- in unveiling the country's new constitution.
Human Rights Watch urges Kenya to arrest the leader wanted by International Criminal Court.
The promulgation of a new constitution in Kenya was a big event in Kenya and the East African region. There was merry making and a bit of reflection. The event also sparked grumblings.
For weeks, the ceremony was eagerly awaited and several dignitaries dignified the occasion with their presence; they included presidents from Uganda, Rwanda, Comoros, Zanzibar, and Sudan. Among the dignitaries, the one who attracted most attention was President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, and it was not positive given that he is under indictment by the International Criminal Court, ICC.
As a state party to ICC, Kenya was expected to arrest and hand him over to The Hague but Kenya is also a committed member of the African Union which considers the ICC decision erroneous. Kenya’s problem was one of balancing conflicting international commitments in such a way as not to jeopardize the country’s national interests which include its role in the region. The main concern, therefore, was Kenya’s interests.National interests
The challenge before Kenya was simply one of determining, advancing and protecting national interests when confronted with unpleasant choices. This calls for clarity as to what those interests are, both primary and secondary, and to do it in such a way as not to compromise primary interests in order to secure secondary interests.
In this case, promoting regional stability is a primary interest for Kenya; handing over President Bashir to ICC is secondary. As a country, therefore, Kenya had to make hard choices on a regular basis with regard to its primary and secondary interests. This is particularly so when her immediate neighbours who form the first and most important of three geo-political concentric circles that affect Kenya’s national interests are involved. Sudan is an immediate neighbour.
Subsequently, Kenya cannot be oblivious to developments and potential threats emanating from any of its neighbours, especially Sudan. Kenya’s geo-strategy, therefore, calls for anticipation of, and acting to thwart, those threats before they occur. It has to do all that it can to reduce the likelihood of regional breach of the peace and failure to do that would be negligence. The invitation to President Bashir, and his presence at Uhuru Park, is as such part of Kenya’s geo-strategy to promote regional peace by defusing potential conflagration.Return to war
This is partly due to the fact that Sudan has been a source of regional un-peace because of its ability to trans-nationalise internal conflicts by spreading small arms and generating refugees. Kenya, as one of those affected directly, went out of its way to help craft the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA, that settled the war in Southern Sudan. The settlement called for a constitutional restructuring and the possibility of the south seceding after a referendum.
The fact that there have been statements from the north that it might frustrate the referendum or renege on its commitment is worrying because it implies potential return to war with all the negative consequences to Kenya and the region.
Kenya, in addition, has geopolitical interests in Southern Sudan. It's long term infrastructural projection, linking Southern Sudan with a new port at Lamu through a railroad and a highway, opens up a four country zone (Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya) for economic growth and potential reduction of incidents of banditry. It is therefore obliged to help create conditions of peace whether or not that region choose to be independent in the January 2011 referendum.
Having itself successfully gone through a referendum that was at times heated, Kenya now knows how to conduct referendum and to put up post-referendum shows that others can emulate and the message was that Kenya was willing to help.
Sudan is one of those with direct interest in knowing how to conduct referendum and it is in Kenya’s interests that the Sudanese, north and south, be well prepared.
Inviting President Bashir to the big show at Nairobi's Uhuru Park, therefore, was a brilliant geo-strategic move designed to protect Kenya’s geopolitical interests. Having helped to create a condition of regional peace through the CPA, it would be foolish for Kenya to sit back and watch the situation in Sudan deteriorate when it is in its interest and reach to help.
One way to help is to rebuild confidence by assuring Sudan that it has nothing to fear from a referendum, from letting go should the south decide to go, and from putting up a good separation show.Regional peace
At Uhuru Park, he probably learned something about peace, referenda, and good shows. Although Bashir’s political hands are not the cleanest, he cannot be ignored in ensuring peace in the region. Kenya’s primary interests dictate that officials in Nairobi deal with the man in Khartoum as well as in Juba.
-The writer is a Professor of History and International Relations, United States International University, Nairobihttp://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.africareview.com%2FNews%2F-%2F825442%2F998636%2F-%2Fufk2sjz%2F-%2Findex.html&h=b0524