There is hope for better Kenya-US relations under Biden rule

US President-Elect Joe Biden. [File, Standard]

The election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America has sparked measured optimism of better US engagements abroad.

Joe, a seasoned foreign policy expert is seen to be the antidote of disastrous policies of the besieged President Donald Trump. The next administration is already sprucing up its multilateral toolkit which includes reversing US withdrawal from the World Health Organization, and the Paris Climate Agreement.

The US could soon be back in the game.

But it is going to take time for the Biden administration to undo the damage caused by President Trump. The isolationist and unflinching economic nationalism by the outgoing administration have elbowed American allies, and eroded long standing goodwill. Many capitals around the world, including Nairobi, are on the edge.

Whereas a Biden administration would certainly inject some human face to the conduct of diplomacy; it would be naïve to expect a dramatic shift in the US posture towards the rest of the world. In many ways, there will be continuity in some of the foreign policy options designed and implemented by Trump.

Yet, Africa expects better. Donald Trump never visited the continent as President. His incendiary comments about the continent as well as travel ban targeting nationals of African countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Somalia further eroded Africa’s amenability towards the World’s superpower. And in December 2018 when the former National Security Advisor John Bolton unveiled the Prosper Africa policy, it smacked of tied aid at the expense of more progressive frameworks of cooperation such as trade and industrial and scientific cooperation.

It is this damage that the Biden administration should seek to reset in collaboration with African countries. For Kenya, there is already steamy ground upon which to build better ties. The US and Kenya have been close partners in the realms of business, security and healthcare provision.

America was the third largest destination for Kenya’s exports and the seventh largest source of its imports in 2017. Washington also remained the leading source of foreign tourist arrivals to Kenya in 2016 and 2017, with direct flights between Kenya and US launched in 2019.

As East Africa’s largest and most important business, financial, and transportation hub, with 80 percent of East Africa’s trade flowing through the Mombasa port, Kenya presents a ripe case for deeper engagement with American private sector players across sectors such as technology, consumer services, banking, and finance sectors.

The two countries have been key partners in the global efforts to stem terrorism, and violent extremism in the horn of Africa, as well as piracy off the Somalia coast. As a country committed to peace and security in the region, Kenya has severally played mediator role in stymieing conflicts in countries such as South Sudan, Burundi and Somalia. In January 2021, Kenya will begin a two-year rotation on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. There is, therefore, a real prospect of renewed engagements between Nairobi and Washington that can anchor stability of Kenya and the region.

As a gateway to East and Central Africa, Kenya plays a key role as launching pad for corporations and countries keen on economic partnerships with two regions. In July 2020 Presidents Trump and President Uhuru Kenyatta launched negotiations for the first Free Trade Agreement in sub-Saharan Africa. If successfully concluded, the pact would act as a template for similar deals with other African countries while anchoring the much needed shift from aid to trade in Kenya’s relations with the US.

  • The writer is a scholar of international relations. Twitter: @Cavinceworld