Learning to Spell “Azerbaijan”: Logistics and the ICC Saga

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Deputy President William Ruto have been embroiled in a lengthy saga with the ICC as regards maintaining their innocence, deferring trial dates and suchlike. These issues continue to taint the relationship between Kenya and the West. Average Kenyans have quickly associated the lack of proper Western support in handling the ICC cases as a snub, a friend turning their back on another at their moment of need. As tensions simmer and Kenya internalizes anti-Western ideals, we in the logistics industry must ask how these “tug of war” discussions with the Westerners will affect us.

Photo Credit: Standard Media

Photo Credit: Standard Media

The first and likely most immediate consequence would be where foreign investors would withdraw funding from Kenya. As Kenya’s relationship with the West sours, we will continue to draw international attention for all the wrong reasons. No investor ever got wealthy by channelling funds into an unstable venture where a host country may suddenly turn against them, which is what Kenya will increasingly resemble, discouraging potential investors as current ones close up shop.

The logistics industry, like most others in the country, relies on investor funds to finance machinery, generate business opportunities and support or repair the infrastructure we use in the course of duty. Thus, as investors distance themselves from Kenya, the blows to the logistics industry will be multiple, varied and difficult to recover from.

Further threatening the future of the supply chain management industry in Kenya is the tension put on previously amicable relations with the West in terms of diplomacy and hospitability. African despots such as Idi Amin set an unfortunate precedent for reacting to having foreigner mass ejections becoming a possibility. While this may be unthinkable in present day Kenya, the ejection of senior British officials from an Eldoret hotel by county government for reasons that can only be termed “questionable” heralds an unfortunate future.

The spread of anti-Western rhetoric opens the door for the possibility, though distant, of unceremoniously bundling Westerners out of the country in a misguided attempt at nationalism. This will of course include clients, suppliers and employees of firms related to the logistics industry, again causing a halt in business on our end. Furthermore, foreign-owned companies may exit from the supply chain management market, voluntarily or by escort, leading to vacuums that would drastically affect us, e.g. where machinery and spare parts suppliers are no longer available.

Logistics firms involved in exports and imports are likely to be directly affected by a chill in Kenya’s relationship with the West. The EU accounted for about 26% of Kenya’s total exports in 2011, making that region one of our biggest customers. Foreign importers may refuse to order Kenyan goods in a show of solidarity with their government, should political tensions spread to trade. Here, several supply chain managers will either be out of a job or experience an excruciating slow down in activity due to lack of orders.

Importers are also likely to face the same fate, when Western suppliers elect to disassociate themselves with Kenya. Such an economically devastating action may be accelerated should their governments decide to issue trade sanctions against Kenya, declaring us persona non grata at the trade table. Aside from loss of logistics industry jobs, Kenya also imports a lot of vital cargo daily which will remain inaccessible to us should a trade sanction be issued.

With Kenya’s cooperation with the West grinding to a slow halt, the logistics industry has one hope left: Kenya’s new partners. Where the West has appeared to ‘fail’ us, countries such as China have emerged as worthwhile substitutes, bringing the gift of speed and enterprising in a bid to replace the West as Africa’s biggest benefactor. Today, the supply chain management players can find comfort in new jobs created by such partners, the economic shot in the arm we so badly needed and of course the physical manifestation of infrastructural developments to support the logistics function.

Thus, while there are immediate and likely long lasting consequences for the logistics industry should Kenya’s relationship with the West continue to go downhill, we are confident that we will find a way to survive, as will our great nation. With the support of our new allies, Kenya can emerge from this quagmire, not necessarily unscathed, but still alive and kicking. We advise you to learn to spell Azerbaijan, you are likely to hear it much more as the international battle lines are drawn. We wish you, and ourselves, the best.

It is encouraging that the Assembly of State Parties adopted some of Kenya’s key proposals. The changes to the statute now permit President Kenyatta and Deputy Ruto to attend trial via video link and represented by their legal team at the Hague. Additionally, the ICC will now recognize the two in their capacities and not as “mere suspects”. Perhaps the world will do the same to put a halt to the diplomatic hopscotch they have playing?

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