President William Ruto has defied expectations on the international stage, striking crucial deals in meetings with some of the world’s most powerful leaders in his nine months in power.
It was never seen this way and pundits, at his inauguration day, expressed worries that his lack of detail on foreign policy may come to hurt his ambitions of staging Kenya ahead of regional peers.
His 29 visits and other meetings have yielded visa-free travel, as in the case with South Africa and Eritrea; trade discussions; ideas to fight climate change; and addressed security issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
On inauguration day, Dr Ruto pledged to work on “deepening our integration” and said Nairobi will sustain the pace on supporting closer ties with neighbours and the continent in general.
At the UN General Assembly in September, he said Kenya will continue being “an anchor State in the region” and sustained investment “in diplomatic efforts to find lasting peace in myriad situations within and beyond the region”.
His meetings have, however, swung from local issues to tapping the expertise of far-flung countries such as Singapore. This week, he met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong from whom he wants to learn about affordable housing.
May has probably been Ruto’s longest day in the sun. In one week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva, World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly all toured Nairobi.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua says Kenya is focusing on creating “partnerships”.
“And this is seen in the engagements between our President and the guests he hosts, and in the visits he makes abroad,” he told the Sunday Nation last week.
“We are also focused on climate change and the need for peace in our country and the region and beyond. We have received various requests from world leaders to help with the issues of Sudan,” he added.
Perhaps the missing pattern is that Ruto hasn’t met Chinese President Xi Jinping yet. His predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, considered China in one of the earliest engagements as President, visiting Beijing twice in two years.
Dr Ruto has followed a pattern established by predecessors; that of meeting with every leader in the neighbourhood within the first six months in power. His government still faces challenges, however. They need to work out long-term solutions to trade tiffs with Uganda and Tanzania.