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Why Kenya did not vote when the whole world defied Trump at the UN

By Vincent Achuka | December 23rd 2017

Fear of losing billions of shillings in US funding made Kenya pull out of a vote against President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem policy at the United Nations.

The vote against President Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel won the day, after a majority of UN member states defied threats of losing US financial aid.

Kenya did not participate in the vote in what pundits say was fear of a financial aid backlash from Trump’s administration.

Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN, Macharia Kamau, was quoted in sections of the press yesterday saying that the Kenyan mission at the UN had “already closed for the holidays” by the time voting began.

Kenya receives billions of shillings in aid every year through various projects funded by the US.

Just a day before voting, the US president warned that there would be repercussions for countries that voted to denounce his new Jerusalem policy.

“We’re watching those votes,” Trump said on Wednesday. “Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.”

The US is the world’s biggest provider of foreign aid.

To further reiterate Trump’s threats, US representative to the UN, Nicki Hailey, was yesterday reported by CNN as having written to her fellow representatives just hours to the vote, warning them that “the president will be watching.”

Majority vote

When it came to voting, the UN assembly approved by a resounding majority a motion rejecting Washington’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The 193-member assembly adopted the resolution by 128 to nine with 35 abstentions.

In Africa, only Togo voted with the US.

In East Africa, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi were present but declined to vote while Tanzania and Somalia voted for the motion.

Kenya did not attend the voting session.

Botswana, which is one of the countries that voted against the US, went on to issue a terse statement saying it will not be cowed by Trump’s antics.

“Botswana will not be intimidated by such threats whose sole purpose is to undermine our sovereignty as an independent country,” read a press release from the country’s Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation.

Balancing act

Experts say Kenya played a balancing act by avoiding the vote, especially in the light of the country’s close friendship with Israel.

“Kenya did not want to anger the US, Israel and the African Union,” said Patrick Kamau, a lecturer of Diplomacy and Peace Studies at the United States International University-Africa (USIU-A).

Three weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Kenya on his second visit in 12 months, to attend President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration party.

“The AU had already made its position which is contrary to the wishes of the US, but at the same time America and Israel are our key allies, so it was a wise move not showing up (for the UN voting) at all,” Kamau said.

Kenya is one of the largest recipient of economic aid from the United States. Last year, the country received $632 million (Sh65.1 billion) as economic aid and $468 million (Sh48.2 billion) for other programmes such as HIV and Aids management, energy, fight against terror and agriculture.

The US has also injected billions of shillings into Kenya’s battle against terrorism, which the country is keen to maintain.

By comparison, Tanzania, which voted against the US received a total of $628 million (Sh64.7 billion) while Uganda which was present but opted not to vote received $741 million (Sh76.4 billion).

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