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KENYA: The Role of Parliamentary Diplomacy in Foreign Policy

Parliament Buildings, Kenya | Photo Courtesy

By Salad Malicha

Since independence Kenya National Assembly have played interchanging roles depending with the change of subsequent regimes; some of the traditional functions include;

(a) Making legislation: to consider, refine and pass legislative bills to improve the lives of Kenyans;
(b) Oversight: The oversight role extends to scrutiny of financial, administrative and management practices of public officers and other public institutions. In this parliamentarians hold the latter to account for the expenditure of such funds as approved by the House to ensure transparency and accountability;
(c) Representation of constituents: MPs are a bridge between the electorate and the government; hence relay issues facing voters to the government for consideration and press for action. On the other hand, an MP is expected to communicate to the public the ongoing government plans and policies to address their concerns;
(d) Making and unmaking of government (executive): Parliament has the power to vote out the executive through a vote of no confidence. This is a powerful lever upon which they can use to determine the life of the Government through exercising the ability to provide or withhold support to either the entire government or a member of the executive.

With the ushering of the new dispensation, Parliament role has dramatically changed which include Budgetary making process and allocations: to provide the funds needed for government operations annually; MPs have responsibility to consider, debate and pass the financial estimates (budget) including taxation measures for raising revenue to finance public development programmes/projects presented by the Executive.

More importantly, Parliament has extended its circle of interest in the foreign field. Issues of foreign policy have frequently been a subject of discussion, either in committees or during a parliamentary plenary session. In addition, parliamentary delegations participate in the work of parliamentary assemblies of international organizations such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). The potential influence of the Kenya National Assembly in the legislative output is very significant within and without borders of the Republic of Kenya.

Foreign policy of a country refers to the course of action designed by a state to achieve its objective in the international arena. It is a sum total of a country’s intention towards other states and non-state actors in the international system. Actors in foreign policy are institutions, Individual or groups that influence behaviour in the state’s relations. On the other hand, institutional actors are structures or mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behaviour of a set of individuals within a given community.

The institutional actors in Kenya’s foreign policy include the head of state-Presidency, Parliament, Ministry of foreign affairs, judiciary and other Ministries like the Ministry of Finance, Defense and Trade that are also presumed to be empowered to speak and act on issues of foreign relations that concern specific tasks of their Ministries.


In the formulation and conduct of foreign policy, the Head of State is the top diplomat because he represents the state in the international conferences and summits. The head of state accredits diplomatic envoys, sign credentials given to the head of diplomatic Missions; authorize a delegate to sign a treaty on his behalf. In many states-nations, the formulation and implementation of foreign policy begin and ends with the head of state. In the old Constitution, the head of states appoints ambassadors/ high commissioners who represent him in other states and all these envoys report directly to the head of state making him a central figure in the foreign policy formulation, conduct and implementation.

For instance, Kenya’s foreign policy includes;
(i) Respects for sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states and preservation of national security;
(ii) Good neighbourliness and peaceful co-existence;
(iii) Peaceful settlement of disputes;
(iv) Non-interference in the internal affairs of others states;
(v) Non-alignment and national self-interest and ;
(vi) Adherence to the charters of the UN and AU.

However, with the promulgation of the new Constitution, the trends have slightly changed pursuant to the provision Chapter eight of Article 132 which states that;
(2) The President shall nominate and, with the approval of National Assembly, appoint and may dismiss-
(e) High commissioners, ambassadors, diplomatic and consular representatives.
(4) The president may-
(d) Subject to Article, declare a state of emergency; and
(e) With the approval of Parliament, declare war.
Parliament plays a major role in foreign policy. Some of the key functions of parliament, with regard to foreign policy, involve proposing, deliberating and deciding about public policy.

Foreign policy is an externalized public policy. The effectiveness of the public policy, the only thing that differentiates them is the territory.

This means that the parliament formulates policies and establish Committees/structures. This includes defense and foreign relations committee that oversee the implementation of foreign policy.

Apart from the members of the executive arm of the government and Judiciary, the Legislature also plays a part in the foreign policy in one way or another. The foreign policy decisions such as ratification of important treaties are sanctioned by the Parliament;

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The role of Parliament in the formulation of foreign policy is a quite complex issue. It’s the subject of various scientific fields and concerns many other bodies of public life. It can be studied through compensated prisms, within the field of constitutional law, political science, and international relations.

The duties and actions of Parliaments in the foreign area are condensed into what is call parliamentary diplomacy and there is no precise definition of this concept. However, its interdisciplinary character makes it easier to approach in two levels of analysis. The first is related to its legal nature and deals with the examination of the institutional competence of regulated Parliament in the area of international relations of the country. The second level relates to its political nature which refers to the broader political role of Parliaments in the implementation and formulation of a country’s foreign policy. If well combine these two levels, can introduce an initial description of parliamentary diplomacy as the activities carried out by Parliament in international relations, both within the limits of institutional competence and as a central factor of the internal political scene.

The wider role of the Parliament in the system of a country’s foreign policy varies, depending on the historical origins of the country, its political system and the overall position in the international arena.

The first set of parameters relate to the form of government that defines the role and authorities of various institutions. Several authors consider that one-party or authoritarian regimes act in foreign policy in a more or less arbitrary manner, undisturbed by any internal reactions. Some others argue that in democratic regimes the powers of legislators are substantial since the possibilities of governmental control are wider. However, they add that Parliaments are more vulnerable to handling foreign affairs, the internal pressure of public opinion, the need for transparency, and the great influence of the media.

Foreign policy is exercised by the Executive (government), in a way more or less monopolistic, as a remnant of the culture of absolutism and centralism. Τhe political forces agree on foreign policy issues so that their implementation will be more effective. In addition, the Parliament shows its interest through parliamentary control, frequent meetings of familiar watchdogs, departmental, select and ad hoc Committees by enhancing the involvement of parliamentarians in foreign affairs in case they have transferred to similar government positions. Thus, there is convergence or divergence of Parliament by governmental choices.


A significant parameter influences parliamentary diplomacy and is the essential content of its foreign policy, i.e. the national priorities and international weight of the country. Of course, countries with a high position in the international community emphasize both the development of diplomatic services and the relevant parliamentary committees. This category includes Kenya, which have developed very strong parliamentary committees to monitor governmental options.

Finally, the intervention and involvement of Parliaments in foreign policy issues occur at two levels:
(a) At the institutional level, especially in three particular contexts:
(i) In the legislative process: with the ratification of international treaties and enactment of laws relating to the sovereignty, security, and state security.
(ii) Under the usual parliamentary control: the use of means at their disposal (questions, the preliminary, committees, censure.
(iii) Within the broader political role: the holding of meetings and discussions on foreign affairs on various occasions, for instance, submission of program statements, pre-agenda discussion, the tabling of a report on foreign and local trips and approval of the budget).
(b) At the diplomatic level: There are three areas of intervention of the Parliament:

(i) In bilateral diplomacy, which aims to strengthen cooperation with other Parliaments and thus to strengthen the ties of people. The development of this sector contributes to the broader strengthening of relations between Kenya and other countries.

(ii) In multilateral diplomacy, which is developed in Parliament through parliamentary delegations, either in parliamentary meetings of international organizations or in international parliamentary bodies (Inter-Parliamentary Assembly) in conference diplomacy, usually held at the level of Presidents of Parliaments and parliamentary delegations or meet the needs of both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Such meetings are regional, international in nature and focus on various range topics.

(iii) In Kenya meetings, may resemble those of diplomatic conferences, but have a peculiar character. They operate in a manner more or less institutionalized in practice and in the procedures and practices which was heavily borrowed from the House of Commons in the United Kingdom.

Finally, according to the analysis above, we can conclude that contemporary forms of parliamentary diplomacy operate within informal groups, such as inter-parliamentary cooperative or ad hoc inter-parliamentary ones and they will become the sophisticated tools of progress and maturation of inter-parliamentary cooperation in a world that needs to be globalized, above all, interdisciplinary, intercultural but mostly participatory.

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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