In recent years, Kenya has sought to become more involved in maintaining international peace and security. This engagement has extended beyond the East African region or even the African continent. In July 2023, the Kenyan minister of foreign and diaspora affairs announced that the country was ready to lead a multinational police force in Haiti of 1,000 policemen who would help train the Haitian police on restoring normalcy and protecting strategic installations. Kenya plans to send its team during the next few weeks to evaluate the operational requirements for the mission. This decision follows an urgent appeal by Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in October 2022 for a specialized armed force of sufficient size to help stop criminal acts by armed gangs. These groups have been more active in Haiti since the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July 2021. Gangs control over 80 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, which has resulted in a rise in murder, rape, and kidnapping of citizens. Kenya’s July 2023 proposal was backed by the Haitian government and by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
According to a US statement on 1 August, the UN Security Council (UNSC) is set to issue a resolution authorizing Kenya to lead this multinational force. This constitutes part of the UNSC’s efforts to take further steps to address emerging security threats in Haiti. The UNSC issued a unanimous decision in mid-July requesting a report that outlined all available options for combatting gangs in Haiti. The report was to be submitted within 30 days to help improve the security situation, including additional training for the national police and support for combatting illicit arms trafficking in the country.
In October 2022, the UNSC passed a resolution calling for an immediate end to violence and criminal activity in Haiti, and imposing sanctions on individuals and groups that threatened peace and stability. Kenya’s recent efforts highlight the importance of examining the east African country’s role in global and regional security systems and understanding what factors are driving its increased engagement.
There are many signs of Kenya’s expanding security role within the regional and global order, including the following:
1- Joining UN peacekeeping missions: Kenya is involved in seven of twelve UN peacekeeping missions worldwide, including all six missions in Africa. As of April 2023, there were a total of 445 Kenyan personnel across seven different missions. Most of the Kenyan peacekeeping contingent—a total of 367 personnel—are dedicated to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). This is followed by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), with 37 Kenyan personnel, and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), with 18 active personnel.
Additional Kenyan peacekeepers are involved in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which contains 10 Kenyan personnel. A further six Kenyans serve with the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and three others with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Finally, Kenya has a single representative to the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), as well as other personnel serving with political UN missions, including the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS). Both of the latter provide logistical support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) in Yemen.
Kenya has played a key role in all multilateral peace support operations. It has contributed more than 55,000 soldiers and other forces in about 40 countries, in addition to providing training for other peacekeeping personnel and forces through the International Peace Support Training Centre (IPSTC) in Nairobi.
2- Contributing to regional peacebuilding and peacekeeping: Kenya’s role the East African Community (EAC) has recently included leading the negotiation process to resolve the ongoing internal conflict between the ruling regime and rebel groups (including the March 23 Movement) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kenya hosted a meeting in Nairobi in mid-April 2022 between EAC member states and called on rebel groups in the DRC to lay down their weapons and participate in political negotiations in Kenya. During what was known as the Nairobi Process, it was agreed that the EAC would deploy a regional force to maintain peace and stability in the eastern DRC in the case that rebel groups did not respond to calls for dialogue. In an 26 April 2022 statement, the African Union expressed its support for the Kenyan initiative.
On 20 June 2022, former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta held a peace conference in his capacity as head of the EAC. During the conference, Kenyatta called for an immediate ceasefire in the DRC and for the deployment of a regional force in the eastern part of the country to support the central government in fighting armed groups. General Robert Kibochi, chief of both the Kenyan Defense Forces and of the EAC’s Military Staff, presented a draft operations plan detailing the objectives, rules of engagement, and resources that were to be provided to this regional force. According to the draft plan, an estimated 6,500–12,000 soldiers would be deployed.
The Kenyan-led force was headquartered in the Goma region within the North Kivu province and operated throughout four Congolese provinces: Haut Uélé, Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu. It was granted six months to carry out the mission, subject to extension. Other countries were also expected to contribute forces to operate alongside Congolese forces; each participating country was responsible for financing of its own forces. The joint force, which was also supposed to include Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, was created to contain and defeat rebel and armed forces in the eastern DRC.
The EAC agreed to deploy this regional force on 15 August 2022. The Burundi military contingent was the first military force to arrive in the country. Kenya deployed about 100 soldiers in November 2022, while Uganda and South Sudan deployed 1,000 and 750, respectively, in December of the same year.
3- Supporting multilateral counterterrorism efforts in the region: Kenya contributed military and police forces to the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), a multidimensional mission that includes military, police, and civilian personnel. This mission was formed on 8 March during meeting No. 10668 of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. On 31 March 2022, the UNSC issued its support through adopting Resolution No. 2628 and the mission commenced in April 2022. This mission took over the functions of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which had been operational since 2007.
The main objective of the mission is to implement the Somalia Transition Plan (STP), which aims to have the African Union hand over full responsibility for security operations to the Somali federal government. Military forces from other African countries, namely Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Burundi, are also participating in this mission, while Zambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda have also sent police forces.
There are many factors driving Kenya’s interest in bolstering its standing in the regional and global security order, including the following:
1- Underscore influence as a rising regional power in East Africa: Kenya comprises more than 40 percent of the East Africa’s GDP. Furthermore, 80 percent of regional trade flows through the Kenyan port of Mombasa, a hub that attracts commercial activity and investment from major international powers. It is also seen as a gateway to East African markets, which include about 500 million consumers. Kenya meets more than 90 percent of its own energy needs using renewable sources, and is one of East Africa’s most prominent logistics hubs. Kenya also stands out regionally for its investment capital, which increased by about 33 percent in 2022. Investment capital flows in Kenya are highly diversified and span a wide range of fields including e-commerce, clean technology, financial technology, and agricultural technology, among others.
Kenya therefore sees dealing with regional security risks and threats as a top priority. These threats, especially cross-border terrorism, could disrupt its domestic and regional stability and economic primacy. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2023, Somalia’s al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement was one of world’s deadliest terrorist groups during 2022. Although Somalia is al-Shabaab’s operational focus, it also carries out terrorist operations in some neighboring countries in the region. Since 2010, Kenya has been affected by the group’s activities, especially in the Mandera region near the Somali border. According to the same index, there were 51 terrorism deaths attributed to al-Shabaab in Kenya in 2022.
2- Represent Africa in regional and international security forums: Kenya obtained non-permanent membership in the UNSC from 2021 to 2022, and assumed the rotational presidency of the Council in October 2021. The country’s membership agenda has focused on issues including regional peace and security, peacekeeping operations, counterterrorism and preventing violent extremism, humanitarian action, justice, human rights and democracy, women, peace and security, youth and development, the environment and climate change, and the sustainable development goals. Kenya was previously a member of the UNSC on two other occasions (1973-1974 and 1997-1998) since the UN’s founding in 1945. This has enabled Kenya to contribute to formulating security policies and security-related programs at the global level and to express African security concerns in this international forum.
Kenya became a member of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council during the same time that it was a member of the UNSC. The former membership lasted three years, ending on 31 March 2022. Kenya’s involvement in this council has shaped its efforts to engage with security issues across Africa. The Peace and Security Council serves as the central body for preventing, managing, and resolving conflicts in Africa in accordance with the Council’s foundational protocol.
3- Build effective security partnerships with international powers: In May 2023, Kenya signed security agreements with international powers, including the UK, during a meeting between the British minister of state for security and his Kenyan counterpart. During the meeting, the two parties agreed that Britain would provide 10 million GBP annually in funding to Kenya to support counterterrorism programs as well as defense, international cooperation, community security, law enforcement, criminal justice, cybersecurity, and bilateral, multilateral, and regional coordination.
In the same vein, the UK has launched a major new program to stabilize Somalia by supporting communities in borderlands with Kenya and Ethiopia and addressing causes of instability. According to the agreement, the UK will provide support over the next three years to strengthen collective cooperation, improve regional security, and counter extremism and terrorism.
Kenya is a security partner for China in the Horn of Africa region. This was affirmed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during an official visit to Kenya early last year. Yi stated that China would support Kenya in dealing with challenges related to security and development, governance, preventing external interference in regional affairs, and achieving long-term regional peace, prosperity, and stability. This aligns with China’s efforts to enhance joint implementation of the Global Security Initiative, which Chinese President Xi Jinping first outlined during the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia in late April of last year and elaborated upon further last February.
Kenya is one of the US’s main security partners in the East African region. This bilateral partnership encompasses cooperation and coordination across various spheres, including counterterrorism, border security, aviation security, maritime security and the newly established Kenya Coast Guard, and peacekeeping support. US peace and security assistance to Kenya totaled more than $560 million in 2020. Kenya purchased US-made military equipment worth more than $139 million during the three years prior to 2020.
In addition, the US has provided about $19 million USD to assist Kenya in combatting terrorism since 2017. In 2021, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism provided support to Kenya through 14 active funded projects worth $69 million over five years to strengthen counterterrorism capacities in implementing civil law in areas such as crisis response, investigations, border security, and combatting violence, among others. The US Department of Defense also provided about $24 million USD to Kenya in 2021 to help develop the country’s defense institutions.
4- Make peace diplomacy a foreign policy priority: A Kenyan foreign policy document issued in November 2014 identified security diplomacy as a main pillar of Kenyan foreign policy. Other areas of focus include economic, environmental, cultural, and diaspora diplomacy, which rely on recognizing peace and stability as necessary preconditions for development and prosperity. Kenya’s stability and economic well-being depend on the stability of East Africa, Africa, and the world as a whole. Security diplomacy aims to promote peaceful conflict resolution.
Kenya has focused on cooperation with other African countries to bolster the capacity of regional institutions to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict. This cooperation has taken place within the context of the African Union and regional economic blocs including the EAC, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Kenya also supports peace efforts by the African Union and the UN by contributing troops, providing leadership in peacekeeping missions on African continent and elsewhere, and enhancing conflict analysis and prevention capacities at the national and regional levels.
In conclusion, Kenya is trying to establish its position as a rising power in East Africa. It has taken on growing security roles at the regional, continental, and international levels. This is consistent with Kenya’s broader national objectives and interests in protecting the country’s legal system and promoting sustainable development. Nairobi therefore has made it a priority to support international and regional efforts to confront threats to peace and security through its work with the UN, the African Union, and regional economic blocs.