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written by ANTONY MBITHI on 11-05-2011

During the 1970s, Kenya’s need but inability to generate capital resources on a sustained basis meant that the search for external finances from a variety of sources was central to foreign policy. As demonstrated, the policy of diversification was undertaken quite effectively in the 1970s.

Regional organization, though necessary, was not a major source of meaningful economic support and the reality for Kenyatta, as for all African leaders, was that capital had to be sought outside Africa and primary on a bilateral basis. The search for finance helps us explain Kenya’s foreign policy behavior towards Britain during 1970s (Robert O Keohane and Joseph Nye, “Transformational Relations and World Politics (Harvard University Press, 1973)

Inspite of the diversification policy which was being undertaken, Britain remained the most significant foreign bilateral donor. Recognition of this dependency on Britain which also covered public investment as well as recurrent budgetary support, it has been argued that automatically made Kenya keen to diversify as much as possible its sources of funding, particularly in the 1970s.

However, it must be re-emphasized that diversification was not intended to secure less from Britain, rather it aimed at securing more from elsewhere, especially from the Western nations. Accordingly therefore, it is assumed that Kenya’s foreign foreign policy behavior towards Britain, based on co-operation and compliance has not changed with the diversification. The quotation below by President Kenyatta in 1970 which reflects Kenya’s behavior of co-operation if not, compliance is worth noting. He said that:

My Government has continually affirmed its destination to build a nation based on grater welfare for all its citizens. We believe that rapid economic growth is essential to our goal…. Rapid growth requires the co-operation of other countries. We need external assistance both to finance Government projects and to provide technical advice on managing development…. While we appreciate the benefits of this dependence, we propose to achieve greater control over our economic destiny by reducing the influence of external factors

The above statement by President Kenyatta is very relevant with respect to Kenya-British relations based on co-operation and compliance. Significantly, Kenyatta himself acknowledged the existence of Kenya’s dependence in the above quotation. Because of heavy dependence on Britain, Kenya was not able to bring to an end her neo-colonial relations with Britain during the 1970s and beyond. It is within these neo-colonial relations maintained by economic factors that Kenya’s foreign policy behavior of co-operation and compliance with Britain partly stems from. It is the contention if this duty that Kenya’s decision to maintain neo-colonial ties with Britain amounts to compliance.

 Government Policy on British-Asians

During the 1970s, co-operation and compliance was exhibited by Kenya with respect to the question of British Asians in Kenya. Between 1970 and 1971, there were 140,000 Asians remaining in Kenya out of which 61,000 were Kenyan citizens or considered themselves to be such. Most of the rest opted for British Nationality, which was offered to them at the time of independence in 1963. Their economic, social and cultural exclusivity made them natural targets for racial and national chauvinism among some people. The government, however, did not give up in to pressure in favor in discrimination particularly against the British Asians- the fact that most of the Asians were still working more than seven years after independence was proof of this. There was also an element of self-interest, for Kenya wanted their skills, experience and capital.

During the same period that is between 1970 and 1971, about 4,000 Kenyan Asian families totaling 20,000 people wanted to go Britain at once. However, the British government was only willing to provide 1,500 entry vouchers annually not just for Kenyan but East African Asians as a whole. While Kenya and Britain accused each other of racialism and indulged in shadow-boxing, the two countries avoided direct confrontation during 1970. Significantly Kenya generally refrained from deporting the British Asians, although any person arriving in Britain under such conditions would probably have to be admitted (J. A Ballard, “policymaking in a New State”, Papua New Guinea 1972-77 (University of Queensland press, London, 1978)

In spite of a decrease in the number of citizens from other common wealth countries taking up available entry vouchers to Britain, permits for East African Asians with British passports were kept by Britain as a political and administrative decision under powers deriving from the commonwealth immigrants Act, to 1,500 heads of household per year. This act was largely accepted to the Kenyan Government without any great opposition.

In January 1975, Kenya raised the possibility of increasing the actual quota of British Asians allowed into Britain each year from the fixed 1,500. This possibility was raised with the then British foreign secretary, James Callaghan during his visit to Nairobi. However, Callaghan was opposed to this suggestion, but the Kenyan government did not pursue the issue any further.

At the beginning of 1974, Kenyatta announced that non-citizens issued with notices to quit their businesses would have to leave the country as soon as they handed over the businesses to Kenya citizens. But in March, it was reported that there still non-citizen traders who continued to trade through the back door after their licenses had expired. Despite this, the Kenya Government did not at any one time even contemplate expelling the Asians. Yet there always remained the possibility that Kenya could as well expel the Asians in the same way that Amin’s Uganda had done.

With respect to the Asian question therefore, we reach the conclusion that Kenya continued to comply with the transfer plan of Asians with British passports. Significantly, this transfer plan was drawn by Britain. Kenya also continued to exercise compliance with respect to the 1968 common wealth immigrant’s act which was masterminded by Britain and which only allowed a maximum of 1,500 Asian heads of household to go to Britain per year. This foreign policy behavior of Kenya based on co-operation and compliance with Britain ensured that relations remained cordial. This policy, while serving British interests was equally in the interest of Kenya as it kept the British willing to supply Kenya with foreign aid and private investment. Britain as well as other western countries especially the United States was also providing the bulk of Kenya’s defense requirements. By complying with the above Act, it can be argued that this was in fact, a case of British Aid being an example par-excellence of external policies affecting internal policies in Kenya.

Within the framework of co-operation and compliance based on economic dependency, it is easy to understand why again in1976, when there were reports that the British government would be forced to give preference to British Asians from Malawi over those in Kenya and elsewhere, Kenya reacted quite moderate and diplomatically. The ministry of Home affairs, when asked about the government’s position on the issue, replied through a spokesman that: “ We would certainly like Britain to take in more British Asians from Kenya annually that is the case now, but we are satisfied with the present arrangements. The ministry spokesman added that the phasing out of British Asians in Kenya according to the government was to continue as had been agreed. He further added that it was the hope of the Kenyan government that it would be informed in advance in case of anything that would affect the existing agreement on British Asian in Kenya, such as switching of extra vouchers from Kenya to Malawi. In maintaining this kind of policy option with Britain, Kenya was actually using foreign policy as an instrument for her economic development. This Foreign policy was based on co-operation compliance. It is for similar reasons that Khapoya argues that” (K. J Holsti, “Why Nations Realign” (George Allen and Unwin, London 1982)

Kenya’s actually foreign policy behavior throughout much of the 1960s and early 1970s is very much in keeping with her emphasis on economic development and most probably a consequence of her dependency on western capital.

The entry of Asians even with British citizenship into Britain has always been a salient issue in British Politics. This salience owes much to the fact that far from its effects on the geo-politics of the region, a large entry of Asians into Britain was seen as adding to the problems of unemployment, housing and over-population among other problems that Britain was trying to grapple with during this time. So the fact that Kenya refrained from expelling the Asians as Amin did was in Britain’s interest, but as long as Kenya continued to receive various forms of economic assistance from Britain, it can be argued that it was also in Kenya’s interest.


1. J. A Ballard, “policymaking in a New State”, Papua New Guinea 1972-77 (University of Queensland press, London, 1978)

2. K. J Holsti, “Why Nations Realign” (George Allen and Unwin, London 1982)

3. Robert O Keohane and Joseph Nye, “Transformational Relations and World Politics (Harvard University Press, 1973)

Date Submited: 11-05-2011

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