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Kenya’s anti-tax protests stir a perfect foreign policy storm

Kenya’s anti-tax protests stir a perfect foreign policy storm
A virulently pro-American foreign policy strategy can only be a millstone around the country’s neck.

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Kenya's Foreign Policy: A Perfect Storm

Kenya has found itself at the center of a foreign policy storm, swinging from an assertive Africa-centered diplomacy to a new pro-American foreign policy. President Joe Biden designated Kenya as a major non-Nato ally, marking the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to have a deep strategic and security partnership with the US. With over 70 percent of Kenya's population under the age of 34, the country is facing a youth bulge that could become a curse rather than a blessing.

The country is also struggling with a crushing debt burden, with Kenya's total national debt reaching $86 billion, 55 percent of which is owed to external lenders. The shilling's free-fall in 2023 further exacerbated the situation, pushing Kenya's external debt up by an additional $13 billion. The government's failure to develop a post-Covid recovery plan has left the country in a polycrisis, worsened by external shocks and climate change-induced disasters.

Kenya's largest debt is to western monetary institutions, and the country is expected to pay billions to the World Bank, African Development Bank, and IMF. The IMF has been accused of pressuring Kenya to raise taxes and grow internal revenue, with Western lenders concerned that Kenya might use their money to pay Chinese debts. Kenya's debt to China stands at $5.94 billion, and the country has been a crucial player in China's Belt and Road Initiative.

As Kenya navigates its foreign policy in the emerging multipolar world, it faces the challenge of aligning its strategy with its national interests. A virulently pro-American foreign policy may not be the best path forward for the country. The upcoming Triennial summit of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing offers an opportunity for Kenya and China to address the debt question and seek more funding for stalled projects.

In the midst of this storm, Professor Peter Kagwanja, chief executive at the Africa Institute, emphasizes the need for a foreign policy aligned with Kenya's national interests. His new book, "A Railway to Prosperity: The Geo-Politics of Kenya's High-Speed Railway," delves into the complexities of Kenya's foreign policy strategy.