Will a Biden presidency favour alliances or not?

Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden celebrate near the site of his planned election victory celebration. [Reuters]

Trump had rejected the idea of US working with other nations globally at an equal footing, something that many hope Biden will overturn.

If President-elect Joe Biden had been in the White House when Covid-19 broke out, perhaps a few Kenyans lives and jobs could have been saved.

Biden’s tough talk on the pandemic could mean the US would have taken the lead in the corona fight and help poor nations like Kenya.  

Unlike the United States of yore, which sometimes took up the role of global police, Donald Trump’s America never bothered to contain the spread of the virus.

In the end, the virus did not only spread to other countries, but also in America where it has killed over 200,000 people.

With a Biden presidency, Trump’s critics hope for a return to multilateralism - an alliance of multiple countries pursuing a common goal.

Kenyan politicians and opinion leaders already expect Biden to return to multilateralism, which Trump had snubbed. Scholastica Odhiambi, an Economics lecturer at Maseno University, reckons that a Biden presidency brings back a diplomatic era in US relations with the world.

Change policies

“Though he might change most of the policies which were brought forth by Trump, he will go to the world as a stable and focused leader of the free world,” said Odhiambi.

Reginald Kadzutu, an economist, thinks there will not be much difference between Biden and Trump. “From an economic perspective, US operates through institutions and the agreements in place,” said Kadzutu.

XN Iraki, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, says with Biden at the White House, Africa will feel relieved. “We will have to wait and see who he appoints as the Under Secretary of State for Africa,” said Iraki.

Elijah Munyi, an international relations expert, said Kenya could lose a little with the exit of Trump. “Kenya was really one of the strategic countries that were going to be looked at by the US under Trump,” said Munyi.

Kenya, he went on, was going to be the second country in Africa after Morocco to get a free trade area. However, he said Africa as a whole was more optimistic about the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

The Biden administration will also see Kenya shift towards procurement of military equipment from US as it had been during Barack Obama’s presidency, said Munyi.

ODM leader Raila Odinga, tweeted: “We look forward to joining hands to address global challenges like the coronavirus pandemic.”

Biden will be trying to reverse some of the policies that Trump has made, such as exiting the WHO. The former vice president said in a tweet: “Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health.”

“On my first day as president, I will rejoin the WHO.” WHO has been critical in funding various health initiatives in Kenya and has been supportive of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s universal healthcare.

Paris Accord

Biden will also try to bring the US back into the Paris Climate change talks.  Kenya is among countries that signed the Paris Accord.

Experts are divided over Trump’s foreign policy in Kenya. Some think that he has done well in trade than his predecessors.

There are those who think Trump leaves behind a superb bilateral trade deal between Kenya and the United States that is still in the pipeline. While anti-multilateralism, Trump preferred bilateral relations - relations between two countries.

Over time, the US has been crucial in shaping Kenya’s political, economic and social landscapes. It is the US that pushed for the repeal of Section 2A that had made Kenya a one-party state.

Through the World Bank and other Bretton Woods institutions, the US has also played a key role in the economic route that Kenya has taken.

Unlike his predecessor Obama, who traces his roots to Kenya, Trump has tried to move the US away from being the world police.

Indeed, his big-man-syndrome has made some people say he is not any different from African strong-men that have been the subject of American attacks.

Trump had been aggressive in pushing the interests of the US, at times at the expense of his allies and other countries.

For example, determined to push America’s commercial interests, the Trump administration has bullied Kenya into back-peddling on a part of its job-creation plan in the textile sector.

This plan included raising tariff barriers against importation of second-hand clothes even as President Kenyatta’s government offered incentives to local producers.

Following complaints from a US business lobby, the Trump administration arm-twisted Kenya and other East African states by threatening to withdraw them from a preferential trade agreement. Kenya was forced to go slow.

Chinese influence

In Kenya - and by extension in Africa - Trump sought to challenge the run-away Chinese influence. In a speech to African diplomats, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that China encouraged dependency.

However, it is instructive to note that sometimes Trump went beyond rhetoric. It was during Trump’s term that plans to build the four-lane Nairobi–Mombasa Expressway were mooted. Although the Sh300 billion road has since been put in the freezer, this has not stopped the US from coming up with its own version of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Prosper Africa Initiative is America’s plan to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the United States and Africa. The US plans to leverage on the $60 billion (Sh65.3 billion) initiative to challenge Chinese forays in Africa.

As part of the initiative, US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter announced the roll out of a Sh41.3 billion credit facility seeking to finance local businesses.

McCarter said the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) is currently reviewing “several transactions” that will benefit from the credit line. This bank is supposed to rival the Exim Bank of China, which has been forking out billions for such projects such as the SGR. However, relations between Kenya and US are going to go beyond trade relations, given Kenya is a strategic location in the region.

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