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What we see when we look east

By Uhuru Kenyatta | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-19 07:58

Throughout history, geography has played a tremendously influential role in global development, affecting the language, philosophy, culture, religion and economics of people and communities everywhere.

Notions of sovereignty are tightly interwoven with territorial delineations on the face of the earth. The ideas of geopolitics and geostrategy are directly linked with the concept of geography. It is not an exaggeration to state that geography drives the wealth and poverty, war and peace, plight and prospects of all the nations of the world. Never has this fact been more significant than it is now. Geography presents both daunting challenges and incredible opportunities.

In 50 years of Kenyan independence, our location in the Greater Eastern Africa region - on the shores of the Indian Ocean - has subjected us to the turbulent energy of the Cold War as well as the 'hot' conflicts that followed its thawing. Before then, this location made pre-colonial and colonial Kenyan an inevitable participant - willing or otherwise - in momentous global events including the slave trade and two world wars.

The Cold War impelled global superpowers to sponsor satellite and proxy States to bolster their hand in a viciously competitive geopolitical power struggle. The result was lavish material support for authoritarian governments, who, in turn, were able to consolidate tyranny and neglect serving their people. In the midst of the post-Cold War upheaval, the winds of democratic change and economic renewal began to sweep across our region. Democratic consolidation and economic revival has now firmly taken root.

East Africa, and the greater Horn of Africa region have for long been the arena of extensive violence and instability. Fortunately, this chapter has largely drawn to a close. Of course peace remains fragile in some parts, but there is a growing determination by the people of Africa to proactively build peace and prevent relapses into conflict and state collapse in various countries. This has afforded the region's peoples space to direct their energies to building stable and prosperous societies.

The present chapter of our history unfolds within the context of the fastest sustained economic growth in human history. Asia, particularly the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim, comprising the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea, is the epicenter of this seismic economic phenomenon.

It is one of those boons of geography that Kenya straddles this rapidly emerging system of trade, investment and security. Being able to exploit it economically while working to make it stable and optimally conducive for commerce is a core priority of our national interests for this and the next generations.

There are two cardinal pillars to this, one of which is the foremost priority of my government: being a leading participant in an integrating Africa that is shaping into a globally indispensable source of raw and value-added materials for industries and consumers in Asia. This is aside from the traditional markets of Europe and North America. The East African Community integration has been accelerated and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa is on its way to becoming a free trade area. These regional blocs will be key drivers for Kenyan prosperity in future.

The other pillar is a rising Asia that rekindles memories of an ancient world economic system of great duration. This system revolved around the Indian Ocean as its hub, and then, as now, the East African coast was integral to it. Kenya is central in the waters that host major sea-routes connecting Africa, the Middle East and East Asia with the Americas and Europe. A secure Indian Ocean is key to global trade. Tankers plying its waters dominate the global trade in oil. For this reason, a secure Indian Ocean is critical to Asian economic development since it supports regional energy security. One-third of the world's population live near the Indian Ocean coastline.

They inhabit countries that comprise the world's fastest growing economies and megacities. Their growth is driving the rapid expansion of investment in Kenya, East Africa and Africa.

Trade will remain a defining feature of Indian Ocean Rim dynamics for a long time. Actions to secure the Gulf of Aden and wrest the Horn of Africa coastline out of the grip of terror groups must be seen in this context. State failure is the direct cause of this insecurity. Peace building is therefore indispensable to modern economic strategy.

Kenya is committed to playing its part in full, through contributing and supporting diplomatic, military, humanitarian and political efforts, as it has in the past. We are investing heavily in infrastructure to support our new role as a regional economic hub. This way, Kenya will act as an effective bridge to the opportunities present in Africa and the Indian Ocean Rim.

This commitment will see Kenya become a partner, guarantor and beneficiary of peace and stability that is required to assure the sustained prosperity of our neighbors and ourselves.

This commitment goes beyond China, where I will hold talks this week on my first state visit. China is important to our trade and investment agenda, to the development of our infrastructure. But so too are India and Singapore, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and others such as Brazil and South Africa.

The author is president of the

Republic of Kenya.

(China Daily 08/19/2013 page8)

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