Obama invites President Kenyatta to attend historic conference in Washington

Nairobi, Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta is set to make his first tour of the US since assuming office to attend the first ever US-African Summit scheduled for August 5 and 6 amid contrasting opinions about how Kenya will benefit from the summit.

The President is expected to attend the summit in Washington on the invitation of US President Barrack Obama. More than 50 African leaders will attend the White House’s first-ever Africa Summit, which the US administration has billed as a historic opportunity to promote its own Africa initiatives, identify trade partners, and foster much-needed counter-terrorism cooperation across the continent.

The Washington Summit will be the third major conference attended by President Kenyatta, who had earlier been to the European Union (EU)-African Summit in Brussels, Belgium and the Africa-Arab League Summit in Kuwait.

The Standard on Sunday has established Uhuru had opted to travel only after hitches that had earlier threatened to see him keep off the Washington summit were fixed by the US Government.

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“First, the idea of attaching African Presidents attending the summit to Secretaries of State was not well received, and matters were complicated by the fact that there may not be a one-on-one encounter between African leaders and US President Barrack Obama,” said a State House source. The source indicated all that had been addressed and that President Kenyatta and other African leaders were expected to have a dinner hosted by Obama during the summit.

At a summit China hosted for African leaders in 2012, for instance, the Chinese premier essentially met dozens of African leaders in one-on-one sessions armed with translators.

Experts in international relations however feel Kenyatta’s visit to the US comes too late, and that had relations between the two countries been cordial, his first stop should have been Washington immediately after he assumed office.

“Former Kenyan Presidents toured US regularly, but since 2013, things have never been rosy, right from claims of choices have consequences ahead of the 2013 General Election, followed by a wait and see approach by Washington after the election and more recently travel advisories,” points out the Chief Executive of the African Policy Institute, Prof Peter Kagwanja.

Only this week, the US Government implemented massive funding cuts to civil organisations in the country’s health sector, especially those involved in the fight against HIV and Aids. This may in turn lead to massive job cuts and human suffering. Eliud Owalo, a Management Consultant based in Nairobi, says there is no tangible benefit that Kenya as a country will obtain from Kenyatta’s participation in the US Africa Summit.

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“The Jubilee Government appears keen on jumping onto any slight opportunity that presents its leadership with the opportunity of hobnobbing with international leaders in a desperate attempt at gaining acceptability among the international community.

My considered opinion is that this remains a tall order so long as the twin-issues of the ICC case and the botched 2013 presidential elections remain unresolved,” said Mr Owalo who previously headed CORD leader Raila Odinga’s presidential campaign.

Indeed, only last month, the US Ambassador to Kenya, Robert F Godec came out strongly to defend the relationship between the two countries, describing it as ‘robust and resting on a rock solid foundation of shared values and interests’.

President Kenyatta’s foreign forays over the last 14 months have seen the country reap benefits in upwards of Sh500 billion among other goodies. “President Kenyatta has traveled to 18 countries in the past 14 months he has been in office and brought home more than Sh500 billion and many infrastructure, trade, commerce and diplomatic deals that will help change the lives of Kenyans for the better,” says the President’s Director of Foreign Communication, Munyori Buku.

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Uhuru Kenyatta US-African Summit Barack Obama