Biden’s Visit Underlines New U.S. Strategic Interest in Region
By Fred Oluoch
Nairobi — Why does US Vice-President Joe Biden all of a sudden want to visit Kenya, when his boss refuses be seen in public together with the two leaders of this East African nation?
As Kenya heads for a vote that will determine whether the country gets a new constitution, a lot hangs in the balance for the American strategic interest in the region.
If Kenyans vote for a new constitution, it is widely expected that this could open up a new chapter for a country that was heading to the abyss just two years ago after political violence broke out in response to a disputed general election and presidential poll.
Optimism already runs high among investors, who are trooping back to the country, opening up international hotels or spending hundreds of million dollars to secure the railway concession.
This trend is expected to pick up after a Yes vote and gain momentum. If the vote is No, however, investment analysts say the country will go back to square one and it is unlikely that there will be enough time or political will to push for a third referendum.
This would heighten Kenya’s political risk among investors, and for the US, a weak Kenya harms its strategic interests in the region, the most urgent one being containing Al-Qaeda and now Al Shabaab.Security analysts say that poverty and mass unemployment among semi-skilled youths, especially in Coast Province, make it easy for global terrorism networks and drugs cartels to recruit cell members in the country.
This potential threat has seen Kenya get $2.2 billion of the $6.7 billion that America has spent on economic and security assistance to the region since 1994.
Biden’s visit to Kenya this week is thus being seen as a precursor to a visit by his boss, Barack Obama, some time in the near future.
But the question is what kind of pressure he is likely to bring to bear on the Kenyan leadership behind the scenes, besides the usual noises about promoting democracy, and fighting official corruption?
According to a press release from the US embassy in Nairobi, the US vice president will meet with key leaders in Kenya, including President Kibaki and Kenyan Prime Minister Odinga, to discuss bilateral issues and the shared interests in peace and stability in the region, particularly in Sudan and Somalia.
While other issues such as terrorism, piracy off the coast of Somalia and transnational crimes such as drug trafficking could be on the cards, the key focus will be US interests in the region, normally expressed through bilateral assistance.
In East Africa, especially in Kenya and Tanzania, the US is keen on funding programmes that go towards youth employment at the coastal areas.
According to a recent paper by Sarah Arrow of Colombia University, the US assistance to the region has become an integral part of its foreign policy, and has come to occupy an important place in the post-September 11 national security strategy.
This is especially so in the Greater Horn countries like Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda.
In 2009, the United States provided more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to Africa. Africa is also a major recipient of Millennium Challenge Account funding, with 15 African countries currently participating in the programme.
Total US foreign assistance to Africa through various programmes for 2009 is estimated at $6.6 billion.
The US Economic Support Fund aid has supported a wide range of programmes according to identified strategic objectives.
These priorities are to enhance strategic partnership; consolidate democratic transitions; bolster fragile states; strengthen regional and sub-regional organisations; enhance regional security capacity, and strengthen African counterterrorism cooperation and capacity.
Ms Arrow notes that while in 1995, only Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa appeared among the top 15 recipients of US aid, by 2005, there were eight countries.”
(Quelle: The East African.)