What are the features of the development of American-Kenyan relations?

American-Kenyan relations are experiencing a new boost in the nature of the bilateral interactions between the two parties. This development is primarily linked to the visit of Kenyan President “William Ruto” to the United States, where he met with his American counterpart, “Joe Biden,” on May 23, 2024. This visit coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of relations between the two countries and reflects a state of progress in the features of the mutual relations between the two sides, particularly in light of the dynamics of international competition in Africa, amidst the movements of several international powers, especially Russia and China.

Governing Contexts

There are several governing contexts for the development of American-Kenyan relations in light of President Ruto’s visit to the United States, including:

Washington’s attempt to restore its influence in Africa:

American influence has declined in several regions, notably the African Sahel. Despite attempts to enhance its presence through military aid and supporting French counterterrorism efforts, recent military coups in several Sahel countries and the Biden administration’s suspension of free trade access and military aid have significantly diminished American influence. This decline initially led Washington not to classify the events in Niger on July 26, 2023, as a coup to avoid ending security assistance and training, which would hinder efforts against terrorism and open the door for Russian expansion. However, under pressure, the events were later recognized as a coup, leading to the suspension of security cooperation and counterterrorism operations. Consequently, Niger’s military council canceled the defense agreement with the US in March 2024.

Russia’s growing influence in Africa:

The African Sahel has become a significant area for Russian influence, particularly through the Wagner Group, which has capitalized on Western policy mistakes and anti-European sentiments. Wagner forces are present in countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Central African Republic, using Libya as a transit point for operations. Russia is the main arms supplier to Africa, holding about 24% of the continent’s arms exports, followed by the US, China, France, and Turkey.

Balancing China’s rising role in Africa:

Sino-African relations are a cornerstone of China’s foreign policy, securing it a seat in the UN General Assembly and Security Council in 1971. China maintains strong ties with Africa, engaging with numerous parliaments and political parties across the continent. Trade between China and Africa totaled $282.1 billion in 2023, with significant Chinese investments amounting to $1.8 billion in the first half of 2023. Many developing countries, particularly in Africa, owe China at least $1.1 trillion.

Using Africa as a tool for gaining domestic support in US elections:

This visit holds significant importance for broader American-African relations, especially since President Biden has not visited Africa during his first term. The visit is seen as evidence of his ongoing commitment to the continent, especially as the last American presidential visit to Africa was in 2015 by President Obama. Despite no visits, Biden’s administration has worked to repair relations strained during Trump’s tenure, issuing a strategy for sub-Saharan Africa in August 2022, aiming to transform relations into equal partnerships.

Supporting Partnership

Several key indicators reflect the development of American-Kenyan relations, highlighted during President Ruto’s visit to the US, manifested through a joint official statement:

Classifying Kenya as a major non-NATO ally: On May 23, 2024, President Biden designated Kenya as a major non-NATO ally, the first sub-Saharan African country to receive this classification, granting it military and financial benefits enjoyed by NATO members, despite not being part of the mutual defense agreement. This move reflects close cooperation in combating terrorism in the Horn of Africa and coordinated stances on the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Enhancing security partnership: The US views Kenya as a strategic security partner globally and regionally, evidenced by US Defense Secretary Austin’s visit to Kenya in September 2023. This visit resulted in a five-year framework for defense cooperation, improving interoperability between the two militaries. President Ruto’s visit led to agreements on training, refugee management, and increased US investment in counterterrorism efforts, including providing helicopters and armored vehicles.

Coordinating on regional and global security challenges: The visit saw agreements on enhancing ties to address regional and global security challenges, with the US highlighting Kenya’s role in multilateral efforts to quell conflicts in South Sudan and Sudan and supporting diplomatic solutions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The US relies on Kenya for peacekeeping and combating terrorism in Somalia, hosting a US base in Manda Bay near the Somali border. Discussions also included supporting Haiti with a multinational security force led by Kenya.

Boosting trade and investment interactions: The US is one of Kenya’s main trading partners, providing tariff exemptions for most Kenyan exports under the Generalized System of Preferences and the African Growth and Opportunity Act. While negotiations for a free trade agreement began in 2020, they were suspended under the Biden administration, which instead launched the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) in July 2022. US direct investment in Kenya reached $277 million in 2022, with significant private sector deals announced during Ruto’s visit.

Strengthening cooperation in climate action and green manufacturing: The visit emphasized the launch of an industrial partnership to enhance climate action and green manufacturing, prioritizing collaboration in clean energy, supply chains, and green technologies. Both sides plan to work with international financial institutions to support Africa’s Green Industrialization Initiative.

Developing knowledge and scientific research links: Discussions focused on investments in higher education and STEM partnerships to boost economic growth in Kenya. A new STEM educational exchange program was announced, with USAID investing $32 million in Kenya’s education system.

Advancing health partnership: Cooperation in public health, disease monitoring, emergency management, and medical manufacturing was confirmed. The US pledged continued support to eliminate HIV/AIDS in Kenya by 2027 under the PEPFAR initiative and to enhance public health systems, including digitization efforts.

Supporting democracy in Kenya: The US committed to assisting Kenya in strengthening institutions and combating corruption, ensuring the country benefits from the US Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, which promotes democratic elections and political processes, women’s political participation, and combating gender-based violence.

Addressing African debt restructuring: President Ruto called on the US to double its commitments to help restructure African debts, especially those owed to China. The US has shown commitment to supporting international financial institutions to achieve this goal and has already secured reforms for new lending. Plans to provide loans through the IMF to support poorer countries and expand the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s reach to select sub-Saharan African countries were also discussed.

In conclusion, American-Kenyan relations are witnessing significant positive development across political, economic, and security levels, as evident from President Ruto’s recent visit to the US. The future outlook suggests a continued upward trajectory in bilateral interactions, reflecting the shared goals and interests between the two parties, leading to increased coordination on international and regional issues of mutual concern.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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