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International relations

International Relations as a field of study in Universities in Kenya
Amuhaya Claire Ayuma

Post-Graduate Student of the Department of the Theory and History of International Relations at Peoples' Friendship University of Russia

117198, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Miklukho- maklaya, 6


Africa is taking a new centre stage on global issues sparking debates about Africa’s place in international relations. This new interest has led to current researchers addressing the gap especially on its History and its contribution to world politics that is mainly addressed through International Relations. This is so as most was written by past scholars who had a Eurocentric conception and invention of Africa. As such, books like ‘Recentering Africa in International relations” has recently been written generating a lot of discourse in the field. “By way of epistemological critique, we seek to rethink the discipline of international relations by foregrounding the experiences of Africa to historical and ongoing processes of world order and global power, interrogating the power dynamics and epistemological configurations of the discipline and the fetishes of its dominant practitioners.” It is against this backdrop that this article will analyse international relations course in Kenya and fill the gaps in the understanding of the course as a current field of study in the country based on its historical changes. Through this the author will show that Africa and indeed a country like Kenya is deeply embedded in the Western education system and it’s in need of a complete overhaul in order for it to create its own imprint in International Relations.

Keywords: Researchers, Research, Africa, Study, Education, Universities, Courses, International Relations, Kenya, Colonisation



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Just like most African Nations, Kenya derived its education curriculum from its colonising nation which in this case was Britain. Upon independence of Kenya in 1963 it did not have any fully fledged university and even the institutions that later on were to become universities either existed as affiliate colleges of other universities in colonising nations countries like university of London or regional/colonial territory like University of East Africa or just institutions that were offering other educational certificates other than degree certificates. Currently the top university in Kenya is University of Nairobi which is also the first public university in the country. Other top public universities in order of when they were chartered include Moi University, Kenyatta University, Egerton University, Maseno University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology which were the only public Universities in the country for a long time until much later in 2000’s that other public universities started coming up which make a total of 22 public universities and 14 private universities.

Teaching and research

With independence and rise of globalisation the proponents of the education system in Kenya quickly realised that there is a need for a different kind of course to be offered other than political science which was the main course offered in most universities in Kenya. Gradually international relations as a field of study was introduced but it has been undergoing a very slow pace until much recently that it has gained momentum with Kenya mingling in the international arena more frequently as an individual state most often needing to make independent decisions hence the need for more experts but also the increase of the number of universities especially private ones.

“The contemporary international system is characterized by constant expansion of human activities such as trade and industry, transport and telecommunication, political process, migration, and culture. States are no longer the only significant actors on the global stage. International organizations, multinational corporations, and private groups have emerged as equally significant actors whose actions shape trends on the global scene. Critical issues of international politics, diplomacy, economics, finance, security, environment and media constantly arise on the global scene. Issues, events and policies at global levels affect both national levels as well as individuals.” [10].

Bearing this in mind, international relations studies is growing in Kenya. Some instances that Kenya has had to play a significant international role is mostly in conflicts that have been in almost all its neighbouring countries but most notably in Sudan which it really helped in the peace process and eventual division of Sudan and South Sudan and most recently in Somalia when it went after the terrorist groups like al-Shabaab in efforts to protect its borders. “As diehl noted, from the late1980s and early 1990s to the present time, there has been a dramatic upsurge in regional conflict management activities of all forms” [4]. Kenya because of its location, it is almost inevitable that it will not participate in conflict management in the region especially since it is the regional hegemon. but also internal conflicts like the post-election violence witnessed in Kenya in 2007 to 2008 which saw the need for international community intervention.

For example, in university of Nairobi which is the top university and the first to be charted it started by establishment of diplomacy training programme under department of government but it was not until 1990 when the institute of diplomacy and international studies was launched. Unfortunately, it begun with postgraduate courses and it is only seven years ago in 2010 that it started offering the course at undergraduate level. In most of the other public Universities Like Moi University or Maseno University it is still not offered at undergraduate level on its own as it falls under political science but at it offered mainly at postgraduate level as international relations.

As stated there are 19 public universities but not all are offering courses for international relations study but at different levels, some from bachelors all the way to post graduate but some only for masters and postgraduate. some of the universities that were established as of 2010 are;


University name


Year chartered

Original name

Year established


University of Nairobi



Royal Technical College, Royal College Nairobi



Moi University



Moi University



Kenyatta University



Kenyatta University College



Egerton University



Egerton Farm School, Egerton Agricultural College



Maseno University



Maseno Govt. Training Institute, Siriba Teachers College



Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology



Jomo Kenyatta College of Agriculture



Technical University of Mombasa



Mombasa Institute of Muslim Education (MIOME)



Some of the courses offered by the Kenyan institutions under the department of diplomacy and international relations include Diplomacy, International Conflict Management, International Studies, Strategic Studies, International Relations but other than that there are several courses that have been designed specifically for the military personnel either as diploma courses or to advance their military training especially in courses like international studies. “IDIS has established links with the National Defence College of Kenya and with the Defence Staff College in Nairobi. It runs an MA program in international studies at the National Defence College and also a Diploma program in International Studies at the same institution” [15].

Apart from the military they also work with other institutions like ministry of foreign affairs in offering training for their staff, international organisations like the United Nations and Non-governmental institutions like International Development and Research Centre (IDRC).

Below is a summary of the milestones that international relations and diplomacy discipline in University of Nairobi has made. Since it is among the first to start the diplomacy and international relations department, most of the other universities base their course work on it.

1973: Establishment of the Diplomacy Training Programme (DTP) under the Department of Government.

1990: Official launch of the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies.

1993: Launch of the MA in international Studies

2000: The PhD in International Studies was launched.

2003: The Institute hosted a seminar on “Evaluating the Terrorism Bill 2003”

2004: The Diploma in Strategic Studies and the Postgraduate Diploma in Strategic Studies were started.

2006: Start of Diploma in International Studies

2007: Launch of the MA in International Conflict Management

2009: Start of the MA in Diplomacy

2010: Launch of the BA in International Studies [15].

As noted the public universities are still slow on the development of international relations as a main discipline and as the thirst for education in Kenya increased so did private universities increase which in essence tried to fill the gap of the courses not offered by the public universities. United States International University Africa is one of the first private universities and offers in addition to what the public universities offer, it also offers courses in foreign policy as well and the difference is it starts at the undergraduate level as compared to most public universities who offer postgraduate level mainly.

Another private university that tried to fill the gap has been Daystar university which “In 2008 Daystar became the first Private University in Kenya to offer an undergraduate programme in Peace and Conflict Transformation and the only University integrating Transformative Theory and the Peace research perspective in peace and conflict studies.” [5].

The main private universities that offer studies in international relations are Daystar university. Catholic University of Eastern Africa, United States International University Africa.

Scientific studies of international relations

The study of International Relations in Kenya is mainly carried out within the framework of political science but it is slowly changing with the inclusion of special institutes or schools of diplomacy so now it is mainly both.

The main area of study is automatically Sub-Saharan Africa but also the west but with the interaction of the country moving to the east there is more study focused on China and Russia. The main western theories that they use for the approach in International Relations is Critical theory, English school, Alternative Approaches, Marxism, Realism, Constructivism and Liberalism.

As stated in the book “ "Non-Western International Relations Theory: Perspectives on and beyond Asia Review" by Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan” “Given that the world has moved well beyond the period of Western colonialism, and clearly into a durable period in which non-Western cultures have gained their political autonomy, it is long overdue that non-Western voices had a higher profile in debates about international relations, not just as disciples of Western schools of thought, but as inventors of their own approaches” [1].

In regards to the above the non- western theories that are used for study in Kenya are Pan-Africanism, Ubuntu, post-colonialism and Nationalism concepts which is as a result of Kenya getting its independence and trying to find its own world stage. But also it is an attempt to move away from Eurocentric conception of Africa to more African view point.

It is not clear what development model is suitable for Kenya but it is argued among the IR scholars that modernization theory, concept of collective self-reliance, concept of solidarity and democratic transition theory could be some of the models suitable for Kenya. While some say that no National schools of IR have been formed in Kenya some say that Ubuntu has been formed

“There is, of course, a possibility that non-Western IR theories do exist, but that they are hidden from the Western discourse by language barriers or other entry difficulties and therefore do not circulate in the global debates” [1]. Which a case is Ubuntu which is an indigenous African word which means the essential human virtues and most of the west might not be able to understand this language hence either ignored by them or not acknowledge its existence.

The publication of the book "Non-Western International Relations Theory: Perspectives on and beyond Asia Review" by Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan in 2009 stirred up interest in Non-Western theories of IR among the scientific community, also TWAIL, which creates the third world approaches to international law, the main causes of the Renaissance of Non-Western concepts of IR according to a few Kenyan IR scholars is to bring other voices that also exist and the Desire to develop theories and concepts that explain the conduct of African IR from the African perspective, that takes into account the African history, culture and religious and traditional practices.

Funding of research and research centres

Research institutions in Kenya are still developing with the main ones being public or rather government institutions but private ones are also coming up. There are no specific research institutes devoted to international relations only but bits and pieces. The most outstanding research institute that could be related to international relations is The Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and analysis (KIPPRA) which does research on aspects like governance and trade and foreign policy “The Trade and Foreign Policy division conducts research and analysis to promote both domestic and international trade through promoting regional economic integration, and enhancing Kenya’s relations and diplomatic engagements with the international community. The division also undertakes capacity building activities to public officers and KIPPRA young professionals and influences policy through participation in several economic policy task forces in the Government.” [9].

The key partners of the research institute who are also offer main funds for research are the government of Kenya and Africa building capacity foundation whose funds actually come from international organisation like World Bank “In fact, ACBF itself was born out of the need for a coordinating mechanism between the diverse number of international donor countries and institutions. Currently, ACBF has three sponsoring agencies, namely, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UNDP and the World Bank.” [2]. So it could be argued that funding comes from international organisations.

The top private or independent research institute whose research actually focusses on regional issues in Eastern Africa is Rift Valley Institute. “The Rift Valley Institute (RVI) is an independent, non-profit organization, founded in Sudan in 2001, currently working in seven countries in Eastern and Central Africa. The aim of the Institute is to advance useful knowledge of the region and its diverse communities, bringing a better understanding of local realities to bear on social and political action. The RVI works with institutions in the region to develop and implement long-term programmes that combine action-oriented research with education and public information.” [14] although founded in Sudan it is located in Kenya.

It has been active on conflict issues in the region like Sudan civil war, Democratic republic of Congo and “Where war has disrupted government and eroded civic life, the Institute aligns itself with researchers and community activists—from the region and its diasporas—in the effort to sustain local institutions and restore standards of research and public information.” [14]. So it is a very important research institute both in peace, conflict and after conflict.

Since it is a non-profit organisation most of its funding comes from “The RVI is supported by grants, course fees, publishing income, consultancies and individual donations. Funders include private philanthropic organisations, Governments, and intergovernmental organisations” [14].

Professional communication of international scholars

The main research areas that will be interesting for Kenyans as prospective contributors to Vestnik RUDN (because it is one of the leading Russian universities offering International relations studies in English). And other Russian Journals like in Notabene Publishing House that has many different journals specialising in international relations topic and Asia and Africa Today journal in Russia and many others.

This is because they offer a different view from the common Eurocentric view of western journals. Some of the research areas of interest is, African perspective, Foreign policy and security, international academic cooperation, regional and international security of Africa, terrorism studies, North-South relations, South- South relations, international relations of African states, Conflict and International Mediation in Africa, Regionalism, Foreign Policy and Diplomacy.

Some of the outstanding IR researchers in Kenya are Professor Philip Nyinguro who is a lecturer in University of Nairobi. Some of his research interests are Kenya’s foreign policy and Africa – US relations considering he got is PhD in the US. He is also a peer reviewer in some journals like Africa today, Professor Makumi Mwagiru also a lecturer in University of Nairobi and is known for his research on Diplomacy and has written several books and articles like Diplomacy: Concept, Actors, Organs, Process and Rules.

Professor Korwa Adar Professor Utete, Professor Gilbert Khadiagala and one of the outstanding researchers and Nobel peace prize nominee Dr, Namachanja are also among the researchers on Kenyan issues but do not work in the country. It is important to note that some of the Kenyan Outstanding Professors are not in the country but work in universities outside the country, like Khadiagala is a professor in one of the leading universities in South Africa- University of Witwatersrand and Dr, Namachanaja is renowned not for her work as a lecturer but being a leader in championing conflict resolution and post conflict rehabilitation in East Africa region countries like Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Rwanda leading her to be nominated as one of the top 100 women for peace.

Other than conflict management being the most common discussed among scholars in Kenya, Foreign policy has taken a new interest Professor nzomo said in an interview that despite Kenya having a good foreign policy the challenge is in engaging the world in advancing the countries interests.

There are no major international relations journals in Kenya as it is still not established as a discipline on its own but most researchers are able to publish articles for specific topics when called upon and currently there is no national professional association of international relations in Kenya

Conclusion (The future of the science of international relations in Kenya)

International relations as an academic discipline is still undergoing a lot of growth in Kenya, it is basically still in its early stages. It has not been ignored as some courses are offered under political science but it is slowly being realised that it should be one of the main stream academic disciplines that should be offered in Kenyan institutions. The inclusion of former diplomats either as lectures or as heads of institutions like Professor Maria Nzomo a former ambassador who is currently the director of the Institute of Diplomacy and International relations in University of Nairobi shows the appreciation and need of academic staff with experience.

As more and more graduates of international relations are getting into the field who got their education from other countries like Russia, China and the United States go back to the country and are offered jobs in the universities then certainly the discipline is going to grow even more and at a faster rate as there are so many Kenyans who are keen on getting education but as Kenya is growing and increasing its role in the international scene then the need of experts is just going to increase.

I will conclude by what Carl death said in his article “Introduction; Africa’s International Relation. which in essence summarises the past and hopes for the future for Kenya and Africa in International relations. This is so because International relations studies has not been well integrated as a discipline of study in relation to African studies as “Dominant perspectives in International Relations have sometimes dismissed Africa as a weak and marginal continent, a battleground for great-power rivalries littered with failed states and vestiges of pre-modern societies.” [6]. And as Morgenthau once noted that the reason great powers expanded in Africa was because of the political emptiness in existence. But it is the work of International relations present scholars to dispute this fact by going back into Africa’s history and rewriting history by placing it in international relations.

This striking image of political emptiness has continued to haunt some International Relations theorists who assume that international regimes, institutions, laws, norms, and values originate in ‘the West’ and spread out thence to the periphery: the place of African politics is accordingly a marginal sideshow to the central business of international affairs.” [6]. For this reason, we find African International relations theorists trying to come up with new theories like Ubuntu or even challenging that the West tried to erase its history by giving examples of African’s contribution to international relations. if they will be successful then International relations as a discipline in Africa and indeed in Kenya will take a new place in current discourse. This will happen by making sure that Africa is well represented in theoretical debates in mainstream international Relations scholarship.

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