Foreign policy and defense
Kenya has a prominent role in East Africa.
Nairobi has regional headquarters for a number of UN
agencies and international NGOs. Cooperation with
Tanzania and Uganda is close and the three neighboring
countries are now part of a common market. Other
neighboring countries are characterized by internal
concern, which affects relations. The connections with
the western world have traditionally been good.
The three former British colonies Kenya, Tanzania and
Uganda had close political and economic ties even before
independence in the early 1960s. From 1967, cooperation
took place within the framework of the East African
Community (EAC). But political contradictions grew
strong during the 1970s. EAC stopped working and several
border conflicts took place.
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Kenya for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Contacts improved gradually and in 2001 EAC formally
resurfaced. In July 2007, Rwanda and Burundi also
joined. In 2016, South Sudan also joined the community.
The EAC's goal is to strengthen political cooperation
between the countries, increase regional trade and
reduce dependence on foreign aid. A free trade agreement
entered into force in 2005 and since 2010, labor and
capital can freely move across borders. The goal is to
eventually introduce a single currency and form a
political federation. The process takes time but in the
long term, the collaboration is considered to be able to
strengthen Kenya's position as an East African financial
center. In April 2017, the countries agreed to form a
Customs Union, which came into force three months later.
Prior to that, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda had
started to exchange national passports with EAC
Some tension arose between Kenya and Uganda in 2011
around two small disputed islands in Lake Victoria.
Minor clashes between police and fishermen have
Somalia causes tension
Incidents often occur along the border with Somalia.
The border has been closed several times to prevent the
flow of refugees as well as weapons smugglers and
Islamists. But Kenya has also actively participated in
attempts to resolve the conflict in the neighboring
In 2004, Kenya played a role in establishing a
transitional government in Mogadishu, and indirectly
supported the government side and Ethiopian forces in
2006 when they attacked the Islamists who took control
of parts of Somalia. In the fall of 2011, Kenya
intervened directly when the country entered a troop in
southern Somalia to attack the Islamist guerrilla al-Shabaab.
The background was a number of kidnappings of Western
tourists and aid workers in Kenya. Al-Shabaab then
conducted several revenge attacks in Kenya. It is
unclear whether or not the Kenyan intervention in
Somalia happened with the good memory of the Somali
In early 2012, Kenya attacked al-Shabaab positions in
Somalia with both ground troops and combat aircraft, and
a large number of rebels must have been killed. Kenya
had also decided to contribute almost 5,000 troops to
the African Union (AU) UN-supported peacekeeping
operation in Somalia, Amisom.
The protracted conflict in Somalia has caused large
refugee flows since the 1990s and hundreds of thousands
of Somalis exist in Kenya, as registered refugees or as
paperless. However, Kenya has wanted to close several of
the refugee camps, but was prevented by a court decision
(see Population and language).
Almost the entire AU effort in Somalia was funded by
the EU, which has begun to cut its contributions to the
AU force. According to reports in May 2016, many AU
soldiers had received no salary for several months.
Kenya threatened to leave the AU force unless other
actors pushed for more money. Kenya had also declared
that it would close two large camps for Somali refugees.
As a reason, both lack of security and financial
concerns were stated. Some analysts saw the Kenyan
government's play as a way to get more money from the
Militant Islamists are suspected of a series of
attacks in the area near the border with Somalia, along
the coast and in Nairobi (see Current Politics and
Calendar). There are no official figures on how many
Kenyan soldiers have been killed in Somalia, but up to
200 people are believed to have been killed in two
attacks in 2016 and 2017 when al-Shabaab attacked Kenyan
military bases in Somalia.
At the beginning of 2019, a dispute arose between the
countries about a sea area equivalent to 100,000 square
kilometers, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas.
The matter was referred to the International Court of
Justice in The Hague (ICJ), but the tensions also led to
Kenya calling its ambassador for consultations and
urging Somalia's ambassador to leave Kenya. The
diplomatic contacts resumed after a month and at the end
of the year, however, the countries agreed to do even
more to normalize relations between the countries.
Other neighboring countries and the West
The relationship with Ethiopia is predominantly good,
but there are also borderline incidents here. Ethiopia
has accused Kenya of allowing the rebel group Oromo's
Liberation Front (OLF) to have bases on Kenyan
territory. Ethiopian militia groups are suspected of
extensive livestock theft in Kenya.
Kenya, through mediation, contributed to the peace
agreement which ended the conflict in southern Sudan in
2005. From the summer of 2011, Kenya borders the new
country of South Sudan, and no longer Sudan.
Since independence Kenya has had good relations with
the West. The country was long regarded as a relatively
stable oasis in an otherwise conflict-affected region -
a view that also strengthened the government's and the
president's domestic position. However, the Moi regime's
violation of human rights created tensions between Kenya
and the western countries from the late 1980s. A freeze
of financial support from the majority of major donors
played a crucial role in President Moi's 1991 decision
to abandon the one-party system.
When Mwai Kibaki took over as president in December
2002, relations with the Western world improved and new
promises of aid and loans soon came. But lack of
anti-corruption has led to both loan disbursements and
aid money being essentially frozen. Both the United
Kingdom and the United States have imposed travel bans
on a number of high-ranking Kenyans because of
The war crimes charges against leading Keyan
politicians complicated the situation. In 2012, the EU
imposed a travel ban on Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto
since the ICC prosecuted them. Several Western countries
indicated an intention to keep a tight line with the
Kenyan government since the two 2013 elections of
president and vice president. But Kenya's role in
Somalia and the country's strong economic position in
eastern Africa mean that the Western world nevertheless
wants to maintain good relations. Since then, the
charges against both Kenyatta and Ruto have been dropped
(see ICC trials after the 2007 election).
At the same time, Kenya has strengthened its
diplomatic contacts with China and India.
In addition to a coup attempt in 1982, the Kenyan
military has refrained from interfering in politics. In
addition to the regular forces, there is a special
force, the General Service Unit (GSU), which the
government often uses against protesters.
Kenyan soldiers have participated in several UN
peacekeeping operations, especially in other African
FACTS - DEFENSE
20,000 men (2017)
The air Force
2,500 men (2017)
1 600 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
1.2 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
4.5 percent (2017)
Violence after the election
Elections will be held on December 27. In the parliamentary elections, ODM
wins with 99 seats against 43 for second PNU. When, on December 30, PNU's
candidate, incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, is declared the winner, despite
signs that he has lost, widespread outrage.
Kibaki is running for re-election
Kibaki announces that he is a candidate in the presidential election in
December, now as leader of the new Alliance National Unity Party (PNU). Kibaki
is supported by Kenyatta and ex-President Daniel arap Moi.
ODM is shattered
ODM is split into two: ODM led by Odinga and ODM-Kenya led by former Foreign
Minister Kalonzo Musyoka
Kenyatta wins party leader fight
A court ruled that Uhuru Kenyatta, and not Nicholas Biwott, is Kanu's party
leader (see November 2006).