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In the US, Kenya has true friend to empower its youth

By Kyle McCarter | June 9th 2019
A hawker sells flags in Nairobi during former US President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya. [File, Standard]

Every time I meet young Kenyans, I am impressed with their intelligence, energy and honesty. I am convinced that given the right conditions, they can flourish in Kenya.

We want them to succeed, but I wonder how many young Kenyans today know our two countries have been friends for over 55 years or that Kenya is one of four key US partners in Africa. Just last month in Washington, my team and I, along with other US and Kenyan officials, discussed ways to improve our relationship that will benefit all Kenyans and we are excited about the results.

The US believes in Kenya, and the American people’s generosity is evidence of that. With nearly Sh100 billion each year, we are helping Kenya become a country that is no longer a beneficiary, but one that meets the needs of its own people and is a benefactor to its neighbours. In achieving this, we must provide youth with more opportunities so they can help Kenya realise its tremendous potential. 

To ultimately succeed, we have to inspire the next generation of leaders by tackling the impunity of corrupt individuals who deny Kenyan people the prosperity they deserve. Thievery must not go unpunished. There is a clear choice. 

Regardless of who is implicated, the government must decide that a society based on the rule of law is more important than the wealth or power of any individual. The playing field must be leveled to give youth a chance.

Last week, at a reception I hosted for a group of young Kenyan leaders headed to the US, I repeatedly heard this concern.  These exchanges have produced a network of 5,000 such alumni in Kenya that is making a real difference. We must help them. They are eager to expand our strong two-way trade through a fair economic partnership and realise firsthand the benefits of a free and open market.

Recognising a gap in financial services, sales, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality, our Generation Kenya programme has trained 12,000 young Kenyans since 2015 in these areas. Over 85 per cent of those graduates were hired upon graduation. 

Already, businesses here are respected worldwide for their innovation. Next year, the US and Kenya will partner in the Digital Kenya ICT project, valued at Sh50 billion ($500 million).  African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) supports over 200,000 jobs in Kenya and generates Sh50 billion in exports to the US each year.  Planning beyond AGOA’s end in 2025, we are exploring future bilateral agreements that would create deeper economic ties between our countries.

These depend on discouraging youth from joining extremist or criminal organisations. The US-Kenya commitment to security has been central to Kenya’s economic success, and we are deeply humbled by the sacrifices of the Kenyan security forces.

For decades, the US has provided military, medical and disaster response training to Kenya.  Recently, we conducted a course for Kenyan law enforcement officers that taught prosecutors and police advanced techniques on how to disrupt terrorist incidents and successfully prosecute terrorists.  In Washington, we committed to enhance our counterterrorism, defense and maritime security assistance, and we will work with Kenya to help develop its new Coast Guard Service.

Finally, perhaps nothing is more essential to a healthy society than a healthy citizenry. The US is Kenya’s largest partner in this area, providing Sh60 billion annually that keeps over a million Kenyans on life-saving antiretrovirals every day and funds the salaries of more than 32,000 health care professionals in Kenya. 

These efforts allow Kenyans to remain employed and help ensure that children are cared for by their parents. In Kisumu two weeks ago, I saw groundbreaking work done by Kenyans and Americans at the Malaria Diagnostic Centre. This not only protects Kenyans – it is combating malaria around the world. Together, we are guaranteeing healthy people can be productive and contribute to Kenya’s growth. 

We will continue to shape our cooperation into the 21st century to benefit both our countries.  Together, we will build a better Kenya for the youth and they will be the force that energises the nation to be the shining star of democracy and prosperity for East Africa. I urge all Kenyans to invest in their youth today.

-The writer is the US Envoy to Kenya

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