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President Ruto's visit to America should benefit Kenya and Africa

 President William Ruto's speech during the World Bank IDA 21 Heads of State Summit in Nairobi on Monday, April 29, 2024. [Samson Wire, Standard]

As President William Ruto heads to the US for a state visit, we must remind ourselves that heightened geopolitical rivalries have profoundly complicated the challenges facing the Global South. The big boys have historically turned the developing countries into their playing fields, sometimes with disastrous consequences to the citizens of the said countries.

When Dr Ruto assumed office, his priority was those left out and behind. All the interventions so far are yet to meaningfully help us create and sustain a new middle class. This therefore means that we must be pragmatic in dealing with our international friends on quid pro quo basis to ensure that we attract trade, investment, technological transfer as well as market to help us fire up our engines of growth.

In international diplomacy as in life, you get what you negotiate for, not what you deserve. As such, Kenya’s leadership must deeply appreciate our leverage in the raging geopolitical rivalry between US/Europe, on the one hand, and Russia/China on the other. Our strategic location in Eastern Africa gives us a pride of place as a leader in the region. With the busiest and most efficient port in Eastern and Central Africa, we boast of a competitive advantage in terms of international trade. Our human capital remains one of the best, with our adult literacy standing at almost 90 per cent.

Our private sector is one of the most dynamic, a reflection of our economy in relation to the economies in the region. This, therefore, means that this trip could just end up being the goose that laid the golden egg for Kenya. First, if the capital of the Global North, the United States, wants to see Africa build a vibrant market economy that would help lift millions of people out of poverty, then they must help us cost-effectively actualise the LAPSSET project without miring us in expensive debt that would border on neocolonialism. If we get this concession, in a single stroke, we would reverse the decades of marginalisation of Northern Kenya precipitated by Sessional paper no. 10 of 1965.

In the same vein, we would accelerate the much-needed regional integration in terms of free-flow of goods and services. I make these assertions knowing very well that the infrastructural miracle that opened up huge swathes did not come with the help of the West, but China. Since US has publicly expressed its desire to engage Africa, not as a patron but as a partner, it has that opportunity in Ruto.

In the last 20 months, Ruto has firmly taken on difficult issues that other African presidents have not. He has called out the unfairness of international financial architecture, which has seen African countries locked out of accessible and affordable credit. When no African leader was willing to speak up over the 24 years of politically motivated sanctions that brought the economy of Zimbabwe to its knees, it is Ruto who has had the courage to call it what it is; ‘illegal economic sanctions’.

We have seen advocates for multi-polar world rant about the unjustness of the Western system, yet they have tied up the whole continent in debt in under two decades. Africa must find an honest negotiator as it confronts painful but necessary truths such as the lack of a permanent seat in the security council.

That is why Kenyans are applauding Ruto for pursuing a multi-aligned foreign policy where we work with everyone who will help us realise our fundamental values in foreign relations while looking out for ourselves within the meaning of the community of nations. Even as we grapple with the challenges of sovereign debt, Kenyans will reject support that is tied to preconditions and ultimatums. No country on Earth should say they are friends of Kenya if their interventions do not help us provide a basic safety net for the most vulnerable of our citizens.

Mr Kidi is the convener of the Inter-Parties Youth Forum

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