While Kenya’s president still openly supports a Western Sahara state, the country’s deputy president is endorsing Morocco’s autonomy plan.
Rabat – Far-reaching diplomacy between Kenya and Morocco is causing a shift in Kenya’s position on Western Sahara, revealing internal divides.
Opinions on the Western Sahara question are shifting among officials in Kenya. Recent developments have shown a divide in the opinions of the country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his influential Deputy President William Ruto.
The difference in opinion between Ruto and Kenyatta became apparent in recent diplomatic efforts from Kenya.
On March 23, Deputy President Ruto met with Morocco’s Ambassador to Kenya El Mokhtar Ghambou. During the meeting, Kenya’s deputy president expressed strong views on the path towards peace in the Western Sahara region.
“The conflict around the Sahara is only an excuse to allow Algeria to continue to squander the wealth of its people on lost causes,” William Ruto stated. The Kenyan top official further added that the Polisario diplomatic office in Kenya “makes no sense,” before describing Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “best solution” to find peace in the region.
Those statements are not remarkable in international diplomatic circles, as dozens of countries hold a similar opinion on Morocco’s autonomy plan and the futility of the Algerian-backed separatist movement in southern Morocco.
Yet, the comments directly contradicted efforts by Kenya’s President Kenyatta at the AU less than two weeks earlier.
On March 9, Kenyatta chaired a high-level meeting of the African Union (AU) without the presence of Morocco’s diplomats. The meeting, and the problematic communique it produced, brought back memories of hostile AU activism against Morocco during the years where Morocco was absent from the continental organization.
In the space of two weeks, within the same month, two of Kenya’s top officials issued statements on Western Sahara that revealed a deep divide in Kenya’s official opinion on the issue. While Kenyatta’s AU diplomacy appeared to back Polisario, Ruto explicitly backed Morocco’s stance.
In the end, it appears that economic development, trade, and diplomacy will determine Kenya’s evolution on the Western Sahara question. Trade between the two countries has grown exponentially in the past two decades, from $170,000 in 1998 to $21 million in 2019.
Kenya’s former Prime Minister and current leader of the opposition Raila Odinga has made repeated overtures to Morocco’s economic development as an example for Africa.
Odinga, who serves as the AU High Representative for Infrastructure, stated he is “impressed by the development experienced by several industrial sectors in Morocco, in particular the automotive sector which will help Africa to be independent.”
Meanwhile, the debate over Western Sahara has become a topic of discussion in Kenya’s press. Eliud Kibii, writing for Kenya’s The Star newspaper, analyzed that “Kenya is caught between the hostilities between Algeria and Morocco. Rabat accuses Algiers of destabilising the Sahara.”
As diplomatic and economic ties between Kenya and Morocco continue to grow, opinions on the Western Sahara issue in Nairobi are undergoing a significant shift. Clashes of official opinions, as seen this March, indicate that Kenya appears to be on the threshold of prioritizing economic and diplomatic relations over outdated Algeria-driven activism.
While this evolution resulted in remarkably different statements from Kenya’s officials, they highlight a shift in perspective that can only have a positive impact on the pursuit of peace in Western Sahara.