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Nairobi’s Bid to Engage Restive West Africa

President William Ruto with the Senegalese President Macky Sall in Dakar, Senegal, January 2023. (Photo: State House, Nairobi)

Kenya has revived efforts to court the Western Africa bloc, the largest at the African Union, after facing consistent challenges despite commitments to expand diplomatic presence in the region.

President William Ruto is set to arrive in Ghana this Tuesday for a three-day state visit aimed at rekindling the fraternal ties with Accra, and lobby for Raila Odinga’s candidacy for the AU Commission chairperson position.

In Accra, Ruto will meet with his host, Nana Akufo-Addo, at the Jubilee House.

We understand artwork displaying Ruto’s image has been put as part of the welcoming arrangements.

Ghana has long been valued African partner for Kenya, with both countries maintaining diplomatic missions in their respective capitals.

While Accra, an Anglophone capital, poses no headache for Nairobi, the challenge lies in engaging with more than seven Francophone capitals scattered across West Africa.

After former Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Amina Mohamed lost the bid for African Union Commission chairperson in 2017 to a less-glamorous Chadian Moussa Faki, Kenya pledged to open seven additional embassies in the area.

However, Kenya’s foreign policy has been guided by a strategic plan emphasising “building bridges for peace; international cooperation; global competitiveness; and shared national prosperity” over the past five years up to 2023.

Despite this vision, Nairobi’s diplomatic footprint globally has grown steadily, increasing from 39 to 56 missions by 2018, with a projection to reach 61 by 2022, a target that has been achieved.

The country currently maintains 66 embassies abroad and two in Nairobi.

Yet, progress in establishing new diplomatic missions in West Africa has been sluggish.

Although plans were approved to open seven new embassies mainly in Francophone West African countries, only one embassy was inaugurated in Senegal in 2019.

The region’s lack of support for Amina Mohamed’s bid for the AU Commission top job highlighted the need for increased diplomatic engagement.

The new sheriff in town has shown readiness to bolster ties with West Africa, evident in his visit to Senegal last January where agreements were made to champion African integration.

Dakar is the only Francophone capital in the region where Nairobi maintains diplomatic presence with an embassy.

It remains uncertain whether President Ruto will attend the inauguration of Senegal’s new President, the youngest elected leader in Africa, scheduled for this Tuesday.

However, it is notable that the Kenyan leader has yet to congratulate President-elect Diomaye Faye, who won in a landslide election a week ago.

Kenyan leader William Ruto having a light chat with the Guinnea-Bissau President Umaro Mokhtar Sissoco Embaló in Dakar, Senegal last year. (Photo: State House, Nairobi)

Kenyan Foreign Policy understands, Ruto plans to visit Guinea-Bissau, the only Portuguese-speaking enclave in the region where French and English dominate.

The diplomatic outreach in the coastal city of Bissau will see Ruto engage his counterpart, Umaro Sissoco Embalo on bilateral issues as well lobby for Raila’s candidature.

President Umaro, a former military officer has previously visited Kenya during President Uhuru’s tenure and he attended Ruto’s inauguration.

Past administrations in Nairobi overlooked this region, prioritising ties to Anglophone countries like Ghana and Nigeria


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