Full Professor | Riara University

Genderfication of Kenyan and Namibian foreign policy praxis

Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

The research investigates the integration of gender equality norms in the foreign policy practices of Kenya and Namibia, aiming to establish a framework for gender-responsive diplomacy.

This summary, including its recommendations and ideas, was created by Professor Francis Onditi and is based on original research. The original research itself was conducted in collaboration with the following researchers.

Original research
Preprint: Genderfication of Kenyan and Namibian Foreign Policy Praxis (2024)

Professor Francis Onditi, Fatma Ali and Fatma A. Abdallah


This theoretical discussion used a qualitative approach, combining literature review and comparative case study.

The conclusions in this study were reached through a systematic examination of existing literature on the "genderfication" of diplomacy, utilizing a comparative case study approach. This involved analyzing the foreign policy praxis of Kenya and Namibia from both historical and geopolitical perspectives. The research process included a systematic literature review of the evolution of foreign policies of the two states since their independence (1963 for Kenya and 1990 for Namibia), allowing for the identification of complex geopolitical factors and gender dynamics throughout their history. The study was framed using an existentialist prism, exploring the plausibility of a new analytical framework to guide scholars and foreign service practitioners in designing inclusive foreign and international security policies. This approach enabled a detailed investigation into the integration of gender norms and principles within the main pillars of diplomatic thought and practice in sub-Saharan Africa.



This research was independently conducted and did not receive funding from outside of the university.

  • For policymakers
  • For Government & Policy

Key points

  • Although governments across the globe have made strides towards ensuring equity in appointment of senior government officials, including, diplomatic corps, women’s appointment to those positions largely remains isolated success stories as opposed to standard norm. However, little guidance is available on how to integrate the established norms and principles in the main pillars of diplomatic thought and practice
  • In efforts to revisit the gender ‘emptiness’ question, this policy brief provides a comparative analysis of Kenya and Namibia’s foreign policy praxis, and by doing so, explore the plausibility of a new policy framework to foreign service practitioners and diplomats in designing an inclusive foreign and international security policies
  • This study is a response to this conceptual and policy lacuna. The purpose of this policy brief is to explore an efficient mechanism for achieving a gender balanced foreign policy praxis
  • We adopt a neo-feminist policy advisory to centralize gender equality as prima facie in establishing an inclusive diplomatic thought and practice in Africa and beyond.
  • The policy of non-alignment exhibited by both Kenya and Namibia is aligned to the Lord Palmerston’s famous dictum: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests” which would provide for more flexibility within an overall foreign policy framework.

This policy brief is part of the study of the disproportionate burden of conflict and insecurity on women, within the broader research by Francis Onditi’s Conflictology Lab on the role of interethnic border markets (IEBM) in building a resilience infrastructure for peace (I4P) using local structures and African heritage in Kenya and beyond.

A key component of this study is the nexus between gender and diplomacy. In which case, gender refers to a form of social structures through which power relation is transmitted between men and women; this interaction is maintained through processes such as access to resources, rights, responsibilities, authority, decisions and choices in life. For ease of understanding the differentiation of gender in the world of diplomacy, this policy brief defines, ‘gender-responsive diplomacy’, as a social construct organized a round statecraft, policraft, agents, resources and power relations, aimed at advancing diplomatic relations of states on the basis of gender equality.’

The policy brief provides sandbox for experimenting policy on how best to design a country’s foreign policy without leaving anyone behind. Gender norms and principles are essential component of this policy debate. The debate addresses important questions, are gender equality norms and principles likely to influence decisions in the diplomatic sphere? Are these norms and principles likely to position women at the center of decision making in the world of diplomacy? What is the implication of geopolitical alignment and realignment of states (Kenya and Namibia) on the likelihood of a gender-responsive diplomatic thought and practice?

Both Kenya and Namibia are considered economic power houses in their respective regions, with strong economic diplomacy pillar. This geoeconomic strength gives the two states platform for influencing regional and global processes. The renewed debate through genderfication has the potential of reinvigorating the ‘warmth’ and provide the tools required for designing and practicing gender-responsive diplomacy. Currently, scholars and policy influencers narrowly embed it within the business-as-usual pattern of diplomatic and geopolitical polarization. The business-as-usual syndrome, at the pretext of “gendering” diplomatic practice continues to elicit ethical and political questions as to whether states are making any meaningful gender balance progress in all facets of life including foreign policy formulation.

To examine this relationship and tap policing opportunities, this policy brief offers a systematic examination of extant literature on ‘genderfication’ of diplomacy. The study adopts a comparative case study of Kenya and Namibia, from both a historical and geopolitical points of view. This takes a systematic literature review of evolution of foreign policies of the two states since gaining independence in 1963 (Kenya) and 1990 (Namibia).

This approach potentially allows for better identification of, and greater insight into, the complex geopolitics at play, the agents operating in such spaces, and the gender emptiness throughout their history.


  • Gender norms play a significant role in the foreign policies of Kenya and Namibia.

    Both in Kenya and Namibia, the international norms such as gender remains an important component of the countries’ foreign policy, hence, much of the discourses in international relations inevitably turns on a consideration of gender as an exercise of soft power in the conduct of diplomacy

  • Gender issues in diplomacy are deeply intertwined with global politics.

    The question of gender as it relates to diplomacy cannot be discussed in isolation from global politics. The emerging notion of global influencer’s race for space and ideas is a pointer to how the gender inequality could be resolved

  • Geostrategic locations of Kenya and Namibia influence their foreign and security policies.

    Kenya and Namibia’s geostrategic locations along major oceans puts them on both precarious and vantage point to contribute to averting negative forces such as full-blown war and conflict. In view of this context, formulating foreign and security policies must consider three interactive factors: (i) cultural symbolism (ii) beliefs and value system and (iii) politics (otherwise known as geopolitics) (Sabatier, 2007; Kingdon, 2003). (3) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the wake of gender activism, the focus on women’s empowerment has been shaped by a number of key commitments including, de-mascularization of diplomacy (see Figure 1).

  • Structural challenges in foreign policy praxis

    Making sense of these foreign policy-feminist debate points to one (painful) reality; the type of foreign policies shaping the international order, including, appointment of women to diplomatic positions is closely connected to structural challenges emerging this study, i.e., hegemonic masculinity, skewed decision making, exclusion, domination and colonization of the foreign policy praxis by those who control states and its machinery

  • Gender equality is a human security issue

    Gender equality is a question of human security, and therefore, domestic politics that often shapes internal development states has wider ramification on the scale of gender integration in the foreign policy formulation

  • Geopolitical vulnerabilities of Kenya and Namibia

    The geopolitical challenges experimented by Namibia were less of an obstacle. Kenya is more vulnerable to environmental and social shocks given its over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture, and the volatile tourism industry threatened by the rapid growth of extremists groups

  • Efforts to entrench gender equality in diplomacy

    In both countries, efforts to entrench gender equality in diplomatic services by states have taken various forms, institutional arrangements, quota systems, legislation and more importantly for this work, normative approach

Conceptual Framework Illustrating a ‘Genderfication’ of a Foreign Policy Formulation Processes

Francis Onditi Conflictology Observatory And Prediction Lab, 2023
Figure 1: Francis Onditi Conflictology Observatory and Prediction Lab, 2023

What it means for Kenya and Namibia’s Diplomatic Engagements

This study uncovers several challenges and opportunities for the two states’ foreign policy formulation and implementation. Since both countries’ foreign policy is shaped by somewhat similar variables (geopolitics, economic shocks, cultural fabrics, historical injustices and environmental uncertainty), this policy brief proposes rafts of strategies for enhancing their diplomatic engagement:

The benefits of approaching foreign policy from a multifaceted approach are numerous. For example, it is through the Conferencing Diplomacy adopted by the BRICs members that they were able to institute the ‘Green Economy’ and as a result of these coping mechanisms survived in the face of 2008 global financial crisis.

In the advent of public diplomacy, diplomatic engagement is no long confined only in the corridors of government set ups, but it takes variety of actors such as corporations, ethnic groupings as well as advocacy groups agitating social change, such as gender equality. In this sense, Nicholas Cull’s five ingredients are key in design an inclusive foreign policy: 1) listening; 2) advocacy 3) cultural diplomacy 4) exchange; and 5) international broadcasting.

Through ‘parlomacy’ (Parliamentary diplomacy) states are able to build trust. Institutionalization of parlomacy has the potential of debating on issues that have both national and regional implications. Gender equalization in diplomacy is at the center of this approach.

Promoting gender responsive diplomacy of African countries’ (including Kenya and Namibia) is an essential component in accelerating the two country’s economic growth and development. The main motivation for economic diplomacy is to strengthen a country’s position in the globalization processes, protection of a country’s interest and seal domestic markets against trade wars.

How to use

  • In designing and implementing foreign policies states should adopt the multifaceted framework represented in Figure 1.
  • Incorporate women's social capital and professional acumen
  • Leverage women's natural diplomatic skills
  • Adopt a humanistic approach
  • Address the 'personality' factor in diplomacy

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Onditi, Francis. 'Genderfication of Kenyan and Namibian foreign policy praxis'. Acume. https://www.acume.org/r/genderfication-of-kenyan-and-namibian-foreign-policy-praxis/