Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Kenya hoping for US aid to fight Shabaab

US Secretary of State John Kerry has a full in-tray of issues to tackle during his two-day visit in Kenya.

Many are hoping that his high-profile visit will signal a thawing of relations between Washington and Nairobi, damaged by the Hague trial of President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.

Mr Kerry arrived in Nairobi from Sri Lanka Sunday, with the US State Department saying his visit was meant to “reinforce the importance of the strong US-Kenyan bilateral relationship.”
He is expected to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House at 10am today and with Opposition politicians, including Cord leader Raila Odinga at 1pm at the Serena Hotel.

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“We are seeking stronger security relations with the United States. We are also going to be taking stock of where our relations are,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Amina Mohammed, who received Mr Kerry at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

“We will be discussing what kind of programmes we can take advantage of going forward. We will be looking at 13 or so programmes that the US has on anti-terrorism and we will be discussing the efforts that we have made (in counter-terrorism).”

Besides security, Mr Kerry’s visit will also focus on economic cooperation between Kenya and the US.

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Mr Kerry’s visit is a precursor to the scheduled July visit to Kenya of US President Barack Obama, who had promised to visit the land of his father before the end of his second term in office.
An analyst, Prof David Kikaya, said Mr Kerry’s visit was a sign of improving relations between Kenya and the US.

“The visit is a recognition that the cold war between Kenya and the US over ICC has thawed to a point where both parties see relations in a different way,” said the scholar who teaches international relations at USIU-Africa. “In fact Kenya remains a fairly trusted friend of the West in this very turbulent Great Lakes region.”

Kenya will be looking for support in the face of terrorist attacks.

“He (Mr Kerry) will discuss a range of issues including security cooperation — particularly in light of the recent tragic attack at Garissa University College — refugee assistance, human rights, trade and biodiversity,” a statement from the US State Department said on Thursday. “Secretary Kerry’s visit will focus on our common goals, including accelerating economic growth, strengthening democratic institutions, and improving regional security.”

The fight against Al-Shabaab will feature high on the agenda since Mr Kerry is today scheduled to meet Defence CS Raychelle Omamo, her Interior counterpart, Mr Joseph ole Nkaissery and Ms Amina after his talks with President Kenyatta.

A US State Department official said: “We think the Kenyans are doing their best. Fighting terrorism is tough, and particularly fighting it in this region is very tough.”
Mr Kerry will this morning lay a wreath at the site of the 1998 US embassy bombing where 242 Kenyans and 12 Americans were killed in the worst terrorist attack on Kenyan soil.

The attack was carried out by Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden, who was shot dead by American special forces in his Pakistan hideout on May 2, 2011.

Since then, Kenya has suffered a series of terrorist attacks, most of them by Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist group also allied to Al-Qaeda. The worst attack since 1998 was the killing of 147 Garissa University College students last month.


Human rights activists are also likely to put pressure on Mr Kerry “to address both new and longstanding problems in Kenya’s human rights record”.

In a letter addressed to him and which was made public on Thursday, 10 human rights groups and individuals who also include a former US ambassador to Nairobi, said Mr Kerry should speak on police impunity, extrajudicial killings of suspected radical clerics, proposed legislation that is seen as targeting activists and journalists, as well as corruption.

“We are concerned that President Kenyatta and his administration are chipping away at these gains under the guise of promoting national security and combating terrorism, including by imposing unjustified curbs on civil society and independent media,” said the letter. “This is a critical time for Kenya’s bilateral partners to unequivocally call for a fundamental change in how Kenya manages the ongoing threat of attacks.”

The letter was co-authored by groups such as Haki Africa — whose accounts were recently frozen over suspected support to terror merchants — Article 19, former US Envoy William Bellamy, Human Rights Watch and Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri).

The US official said: “We will be meeting with civil society organisations. We will be encouraging the Kenyans to look at their civil society laws and to ensure that their laws are not putting undue pressure on civil society… We will be encouraging the government to respect civil society, to also respect the rights of the Press.”

Mr Kerry will be meeting civil society representatives tomorrow.

After his two-day tour of duty in Kenya, Mr Kerry will depart for Djibouti where he is expected to take the anti-radicalisation message when he meets with youth and religious leaders from Wednesday.

The visit is the first high-level one since 2012, and comes after a year of tensions surrounding Mr Kenyatta’s being charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The ICC has since abandoned the case, citing a lack of evidence and Kenya’s failure to cooperate. The case against Deputy President William Ruto is still going on.

The US State Department official said: “The ICC case against President Kenyatta has ended, but we have also continued to say that the issues that came out of that election must be addressed.”

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