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President Barack Obama's visit and what it holds for Kenya

NAIROBI: President Obama's visit to Kenya during the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit next week will be a milestone in deepening the Kenya-US bilateral relations. This is the first time such a meeting is being held in Sub-Saharan Africa.


As a country with an emerging culture of entrepreneurship, Kenya stands to gain from the forthcoming summit. The participation of the US president gives the summit more prominence and opens an opportunity for Nairobi and Washington to deepen their co-operation. During the US President's visit, the issues expected to dominate the talks are likely to be guided by four pillars of the 2012 US strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa, namely strengthening democratic institutions; spurring economic growth, trade and investment; advancing peace and security; and promoting opportunity and development.

The resolutions of the August 2014 US-Africa Leadership Summit held in Washington DC might also enrich the bilateral talks. Kenya's position in the mutual talks is likely to be shaped by the country's Vision 2030, new Foreign and Diaspora policies and its core national interests.

Security is expected to be an issue at the talks since Kenya is a leading partner of the US in counter-terrorism initiatives in the region. There is need for the two countries to come up with innovative strategies for containing violent extremism, radicalisation and other security threats. One of the outcomes of the US-Africa Leadership Summit last year was the establishment of the Security Governance Initiative (SGI) by the US presidential directive. The co-operative venture between the US and six African countries - Kenya, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia - will offer a comprehensive approach in improving security sector governance. Kenya should explore how it will benefit from the SGI.

Nairobi should also engage the US on finding a lasting solution to belligerent conflicts in Somalia and South Sudan. It is in Kenya's interest that the two neighbours are secure, peaceful and politically stable.

Kenya's total exports to the US have steadily increased in the last few years. For example, the value of exports to the US in 2014 was US$ 420.8 million, an increase from $247.2 million in 2010. Kenya's main exports to the US include articles of apparel and clothing accessories, coffee, titanium ores and concentrates.

The value of imports from the US has also been on the rise since 2010. While the value of the imports was $431.8 million in 2010, it increased substantially to $1.85 billion in 2014. In April 2015, the US congress introduced a bill seeking to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) before its expiration in September 2015. This bill seeks to not only give AGOA a longer extension but also makes adjustments that will improve the effectiveness of the programme. During the talks, Kenya should explore how it could benefit significantly from the AGOA initiative.

The US engages her development partners through a number of programmes, including the Partnership for Growth, New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, Open Government Partnership, Trade Africa, Trade and Investment Frameworks Agreement (TIFA), Power Africa and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

The Partnership For Growth is a programme between the US government and a select number of countries aimed at spurring and sustaining economic growth by implementing the September 2010 Presidential Policy Directive on Global development. This programme entails joint analysis of impediments to growth, development of common plans to address these constraints and development of mutual high level implementation strategies.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, Open Government Partnership and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative seem to adopt a broad-based participatory approach towards development as they require partnership with the US government alongside concerted efforts of players in governments, civil society and private sector for successful implementation.

Trade Africa is a partnership between the US and Sub-Saharan countries, aimed at increasing intra-African trade, trade between Africa and the US and other regions worldwide. Moreover, Trade Africa aims at enhancing economic growth, increasing employment and promoting development within the participating countries. Power Africa was launched during Obama's trip to Africa in June 2013.

The long-term objective of the initiative is to double access to cleaner, reliable and efficient electricity to Sub-Saharan Africa by adding 10,000 megawatts of new power generation and expanding access to power to 20 million households and businesses.

In the forth-coming mutual talks, Kenya needs to identify priority areas in which it could engage the US more effectively to realise its core interests and development goals. Deeper cooperation in trade, investments, transfer of technology, education, health, energy, security and intelligence sharing, transparency, accountability could be beneficial to Kenya as it seeks to improve its standing and attract more FDI.

Finally, the country's political leadership should exhibit a high level of commitment towards elimination of any existing trade barriers for both the country and the region to benefit from these initiatives and agreements.

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