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Should Kenyans care who wins in the US elections?

By XN Iraki | July 31st 2016
A couple relaxing in a park in Kenya: Notice the lady’s trouser adorned in the American flag. Can we get enough of America? [Photo: XN Iraki]

It is now official that Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two key flag bearers in the US elections. In the next few months, they will crisscross the country looking for votes. One of them will occupy the White House, and take the mantle from President Barack Obama. This year’s elections have elicited the usual excitement.

The two candidates are the exact opposite of each other. Donald Trump is a TV star, affluent and unconventional. Trump closely mirrors lots of Kenyan politicians, though their number seems to be dwindling, who made their political career by being anti-establishment. It seems from Trump’s popularity, we all yearn for change and someone who says what we fear to say.

Trump’s ability to appeal to voters’ emotions has left Democrats gasping for breath. But if you watched their convention, they seem to have learnt from Shaka the Zulu; do not confront your enemy head on. But Trump’s success will remain fodder not just for political scientists, but also for behavioural scientists and naysayers.

Hillary Clinton could be the first woman and the first former first lady to be president. On this only, I can boldly say she will be the next US president. Americans love uniqueness. Who thought Obama would become the President?

Enough on the two candidates. Should we care who wins? Unfortunately, we have no leverage on the US politics; we can only wait, watch, and at times be entertained. Americans have leverage on our elections, through the media, foreign aid and soft power. How many American movies and comedies do you watch? How many wear clothes are adorned with American flag? How many Kenyan restaurants, matatus, joints, hospitals etc have Americans names derived from cities, states or America personalities? How many Kenyans have American names?

Political influence

There are reasons to care, despite the distance and time different. One, the new president could change the foreign policy. What will be American priorities in the global scheme of things? Currently, Middle East is the focal point. Obama’s earlier presidency was consumed by Afghanistan and Iraq. He scaled down military involvement, some say leaving a vacuum that ISIS and Al Qaeda easily occupied.

Terrorism affects us too and the next president’s response will matter to us. How much will be devoted to fighting terror within our borders including in Somali? It is paradoxical that Mrs Clinton could continue from where Bill Clinton left in Somali after American troops withdrew. If Africa becomes a priority to the next president, we could see more aid flows both in cash and kind like fellowships.

Two, trade will remain a priority for USA. What trade policies will the new president focus on? Remember Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa)? Will it be expanded and extended to allow growth of trade with the US? Of special interest is oil. The strategic significance of oil may have reduced; it is now cheap and more available thanks to new technologies like fracking which have increased the oil supply and hence the lower prices.

Africa (and Kenya) has lots of oil. Will this keep American eyes on the continent? Noted the rising American investments in Kenya espoused by brands like Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, Ford, Jeep and Walmart (through Massmart)?

Third reason is the political influence. Americans directly or indirectly influence political alignments in Africa and beyond. Some of the influences only come to light long after the events, when some documents are classified or leaked. We all recall one American ambassador Smith Hempstone who played a big role in ending one-party rule in Kenya. The leading political contestants in Kenya who are likely to be Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga should keenly watch the US elections.

It is curious that Raila attended democratic convention, not republican. It is not obvious that the next US president will continue the same policies towards Kenya on aid, military engagement, terrorism, democratisation, trade and other issues. Key policy makers in Kenya should be pooling over the manifestos of both US major parties to find out Kenya’s place.

Four, we must keenly watch economic policies of the next president. If the US grows, it often pulls the rest of the world along. Will the new president make the economy boom? What will be his/her fiscal policies? Remember Clinton’s budget surplus? Will the new president run a surplus or deficit? Will there be tax cuts to stimulate the economy? Will interests rates rise or fall and how will this be transmitted to other economies, including Kenya?

Of more interest is the effect of monetary policies on the exchange rate. High interest rates in the US attract more money, making the dollar appreciate, and by extension our shilling weaker and the subsequent effect on imports, exports and inflation.

Five is how the new president will leverage on multilateral institutions like UN, World Bank, UNCTAD, NATO, NAFTA, AU, and ASEAN and so on to protect and defend American interests.

USA might be far away, but the political actions there affect us and our pockets. That is the reality of modern geopolitics and geo-economics. We must learn to live with and take advantage of that reality rest we be pawns in the global scheme of things.

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