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Nairobi Vie to Keep Morocco and Algeria Onside

Nairobi Vie to Keep Morocco and Algeria Onside
President William Ruto in January held talks with Morocco’s Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch in Dakar, Senegal.

This March, Kenya announced its inaugural ambassador to Rabat, Morocco. 

A relatively lesser-known, Jessica Muthoni Gakinya, was nominated by president Ruto on March 8 to represent Nairobi’s interest in the sole monarchy in North Africa.

It’s clearly part of a diplomatic approach that President Ruto is employing to leverage the expansive continental market, especially Morocco’s position within this market.

Bilateral trade and economic cooperation have consistently been central to the royal foreign trade policy, while William Ruto has his Bottom-up economic approach.

Kenya’s decision to establish a fully-fledged diplomatic mission in Rabat marks a significant shift from previous stances between the two nations.

Transitioning from an honorary consulate in Casablanca to a full embassy with an ambassador signifies Nairobi’s commitment to diplomatic relations.

This move also suggests Kenya’s intention to expand its presence in North Africa, with diplomatic missions in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt, three of the region’s largest economies.

Balancing Act

But Algeria, Morocco’s primary adversary in the Maghreb, has not been sitting on its hand.

Since 2013, when President Kenyatta assumed office, Algeria actively sought to engage the Kenyan government.

And just like Morocco, the Algerian government has consistently committed to provide fertiliser and scholarships to Kenyan students and offer other forms of aid.

Morocco has a large fertiliser industry with huge production capacity and international reach.

It is one of the world’s top four fertiliser exporters following Russia, China and Canada.

Ruto, an ardent farmer is an admirer of royal phosphate diplomacy, having made fertiliser a key campaign promise.

While he aims to depend on Rabat for fertiliser, Algeria is also actively engaged.

In March, Algiers delivered a generous hefty shipment of 16,000 tons of fertiliser to Kenya, marking a direct challenge to Morocco’s burgeoning fertiliser diplomacy in Africa.

This move came just as Kenyan senators, led by Narok senator Ledama Ole Kina, advocated for normalization of relations with Rabat.

The Algerian presidency, in a press release, highlighted the crucial role of this urea 46 fertiliser in improving agricultural yields and reaffirmed its commitment to development aid within Africa.

This move echoed President Tebboune’s February promise to Kenyan parliament speaker Moses Wetangula during his official visit to the North African country last February to provide phosphate and fertiliser.

Wetangula, in statements to the Algerian press, applauded the gesture, emphasising its potential to strengthen cooperation with Algiers.

 

 

The Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetang’ula arrives in Algiers, Algeria for a three-day official visit. The Speaker was received by the President of the National People's Assembly Ibrahim Boughali Image: COURTESY

According to the Algerian Foreign Ministry, the issue of decolonisation in Western Sahara was addressed.

The Algerian generosity was seen as a strategic move to shore up support for the Algerian-backed Polisario Front within Nairobi amid a gradual rapprochement between Kenya and Morocco.

In 2014, Nairobi permitted the opening of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic embassy in Nairobi.

Rabat and Nairobi went through a tense episode during this time, when Kenya allowed the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic to open an embassy on its territory.

Former Kenyan speaker Ekwe Ethuro was dispatched to Morocco to cool tensions.

Subsequently, in February 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta paid a state visit to Algeria at the invitation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

During this visit, Kenyatta opened Kenya’s inaugural embassy in Algeria, the second one in the region after Egypt, and posted Moi Lemoshira, Kenya’s ‘green ambassador’ at the time, as the first envoy.

Lemoshira, now outgoing Director General at the foreign office at the time he presented credentials in 2015 said that the establishment of an embassy was part of Kenya’s “Afro-centric” foreign policy and aimed at boosting intra-African trade, international peace and security, sustainable development, and people to people relations.

He emphasised during the presentation of credentials that the establishment of the embassy aligned with Kenya’s “Afro-centric” foreign policy objectives.

President Ruto in a total policy shift attempted to cut ties with Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic after an overnight meeting with the Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita, just one day after his inauguration as President.

Recently, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs PS Korir Sing’oei delivered a special message to the Moroccan royalty through the foreign minister Bourita, and one issue discussed was Western Sahara.

Kenya’s consistent stance over Western Sahara, and influenced by Algeria has in the past negatively influenced its relations with Morocco.

Rabat recalled its ambassador to Kenya in 2005, reducing its diplomatic presence in Nairobi to the level of a charge’ d’affaires due to reinvigoration of diplomatic efforts to resolve the decades-old dispute between Morocco and Algeria over the Western Sahara, formally recognising the independence of Africa’s last colony and drawing a sharp rebuke from the Moroccan government.

“We have established diplomatic relations with them (Western Sahara), this is the first time,” then Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said, referring to the territory as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Polisario’s name.

“They are now free to open their embassy or diplomatic representation here in Kenya, but does not mean we can do the same there,” he said at the time.

Outgoing Kenyan ambassador to Algeria Peter Katana with permanent residence in Algiers had presented his credentials in 2021 as the inaugural Kenyan envoy to SADR based in Tindouf camps, Algeria.

Algeria holds significant influence, much like Morocco, within the continental body commission that Kenya seeks to lead next year by endorsing Raila Odinga.

President Ruto who is slowly abandoning the Western Sahara policy is keen on growing relations between Nairobi and Rabat.

There was significant growth of economic trade between Morocco and Kenya over the past two decades, from $170,000 in 1998 to $21 million in 2019.

The key Kenyan imports from Morocco include minerals, and chemical fertiliser which was a key Presidential campaign pledge for Ruto in 2022.


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