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Kenya must face Trump to avert bullying of its citizens

By Makau Mutua | February 5th 2017
US President Donald Trump. (Photo: Courtesy)

Donald Trump, the current tenant at the White House, is a foreign policy ignoramus. I don’t think he could point out Kenya on a map, even though he spent years de-legitimising former President Barack Obama, his predecessor, as an American. Mr Trump often charged, without evidence – like others in the so-called birther movement – that Mr Obama was born in Kenya, and therefore constitutionally ineligible to be US President. In fact, Mr Obama, an American born of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, is Hawaiian by birth.

That makes him a “natural born” American fully eligible to be the American President. Mr Trump’s view of Kenya is most likely coloured by his hatred for Mr Obama.

I partially went to High School in the US and have lived in the country continuously since 1984. I went to graduate school in the US and I have professionally worked here all my life. As a law professor, I focus my scholarship on the relationship between the citizen and the state. I regard myself as knowledgeable about the US. However, I have never seen before a least qualified candidate to be President of the US than Mr Trump. Nor have I ever imagined that such an erratic, bigoted and utterly insecure person could ascend to the highest office in the land. I am fully aware of American demons, but Mr Trump is a bridge too far.

Recently, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, the iconic civil rights leader who worked with the Reverend Martin Luther King, publicly said Mr Trump wasn’t a legitimate president. I agree. I know there are those who see legitimacy in narrow legal terms. I don’t. For me, the legitimacy of a head of state can’t simply be settled by an election. Legitimacy has a penumbra of factors that taken together conclusively answer the question.

Adolf Hitler wasn’t a legitimate Chancellor even though the German people had democratically elected him. A racist, misogynistic bigot – with the attention span of three-year old – can’t be a legitimate president. Add to this the proven claims of Russian hacking of US elections and I rest my case.

Kenyans should consider three overarching factors as they construct a relationship with Mr Trump’s regime. I call it a regime – not administration – because I see precious little to distinguish Mr Trump from a dictator like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The three factors are Mr Trump’s poverty of knowledge about foreign policy; Mr Trump’s hatred for Mr Obama, in his mind the “Kenyan”; and Mr Trump’s illegitimacy.

All three make for a volatile cocktail that doesn’t augur well for Kenya-US relations. I know America has larger strategic goals that should define Kenya-US relations. That’s not how Mr Trump thinks. He’s driven by pique and impulse, not strategic rationale. Africa won’t be on his radar, unless he’s banning Muslims.

One clue to watch out for will be how Mr Trump’s White House handles the tens of thousands of Kenyans in the US without proper papers. To be sure, every state has a right to regulate who enters and lives within its borders. But the matter of so-called “illegal immigrants” is more complex.

Many of the Kenyans who are out of status have American children or spouses. Many have deep roots in America, even if they have been living in the shadows of society. How Mr Trump proceeds against them without tearing families apart will be a difficult balancing act. I would advise those likely to be affected to prepare for the worst.

Mr Trump acts first and thinks later. I would urge the Kenyan government – at the highest levels and through its ambassador in Washington DC – to begin bilateral discussions immediately to protect these vulnerable people. Nairobi should not allow its citizens to become sitting ducks – deportees on a plane – headed to JKIA.

Kenya has some leverage with the US that it can use. Kenya is an anchor state in the region that has been wracked by Al Shabaab, the medieval cult passing for a liberation struggle.

Even Mr Trump should realise Kenya’s utility in rolling back Al Shabaab. That’s a bargaining chip. Beyond that, Nairobi is an influential entry port for global interests in the region. Every effort should be made to give Kenyans a chance to regularise their statuses.

Finally, I would suggest that Kenyans start to wean themselves of American largesse in the form of aid and other monetary support for its economy and development. Under Mr Trump, America will pull back – and I believe rather sharply.

This is an opportunity for the government – NASA or Jubilee – to become self-reliant and stop begging. The state should live within its means – the way its citizens do. In any case, much of the aid money is stolen.

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