Uhuru prioritises climate, vaccine inequality in talks with Joe Biden

President Uhuru Kenyatta chats with his American counterpart Joe Biden when he was hosted at the White House in Washington DC. [Courtesy]

President Uhuru Kenyatta took the opportunity of being the first African Head of State to meet US President Joe Biden to highlight Covid-19 vaccine inequality perpetuated by western nationalism.

The talks between the two leaders at White House, Washington, DC, weighed in the "leave no one behind" push to vaccinate the world, as Africa pushes for fair distribution of vaccines and the US committing to donate some doses to the African Union (AU).

They discussed greater cooperation on vaccine manufacturing and production in Africa, responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and preparing for future health security threats, according to a White House readout of their meeting.

The US announced that it will donate 17 million doses of Johnson & Johnson to the AU.

"We are continuing our shared fight against Covid. The United States has donated 2.8 million doses of vaccine to Kenya as part of the 50 million doses to the African Union," Biden said.
"And I’m proud to announce that — today, we’re making an additional historic one-time donation of 17 more million doses of J&J vaccine to the AU, and we’re going to be sending some more by end of the year to Kenya."

President Uhuru was received by Biden in the Oval Office, in the West Wing of the White House at around 10pm Kenyan time before they retreated for a bilateral meeting.

"During this very difficult time, the United States has done its best to step up in terms of not only helping Kenya but the African continent in general, with regard to access to vaccines. ...as a continent, we are lagging well behind the rest of the world in terms of being able to vaccinate our people," he said. 

Their discussion also centered on the defence of democracy and human rights, advancing regional peace and security, and accelerating economic prosperity through climate-smart solutions and the use of renewable energy resources.

Uhuru communicated his concern that Africa was paying dearly for climate change yet it has the least emissions.

He told Biden that Kenya remained committed to the Paris Agreement which sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change, and had made tremendous progress.

"And we look forward to working very closely together on that particular agenda, which, as you know, our country, our continent is the least in terms of emitting but pays the highest price," said Uhuru.

Kenya is the fifth-largest recipient of US aid, getting about Sh60 billion in 2020. Kenya's military has also been supported by the US in training and equipment to counter Al Shabaab militant group.

“We’re also closely partnering, especially in regard to the fight against terrorism globally. The United States has been a strong partner to Kenya in that fight," said Uhuru.

Presidents Kenyatta and  Biden underscored the need to bring additional transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems and to advance peaceful resolutions to the conflicts in Somalia and Ethiopia.

The two leaders met under a cloud, especially after the White House said transparency in international financial systems was on the agenda just a few days after President Kenyatta's family was listed as having money in offshore accounts.

The revelations have been a factor in Uhuru's US trip to lead the United Nation's Security Council agenda for the month.

Uhuru has denied any impropriety, saying his name did not appear in the leak and promised a detailed response when back in Kenya.

President Biden's press secretary Jen Psaki yesterday suggested that the Kenyattas being mentioned in the Pandora Papers would not be a factor in their meeting. “We have a range of interests in working with Kenya and working with them on issues in Africa, in the region, and that will be the primary focus of the meeting," she said.

Psaki suggested that Biden still believed in transparency but the revelations would not impede any discussions.

“(Biden) has a range of meetings diplomatically with leaders where he has shared interests of the United States and their country, and may also have areas where there’s disagreement. And the President has been quite vocal…that’s something he would convey as applicable. But that doesn’t mean you don’t meet with people you have disagreements with."

Senator Jim Risch, a Republican from Idaho and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed his concern on government corruption in Kenya in a statement that also raised issues with Kenya’s growing debt to China and incidents of inter communal violence.

He acknowledged Kenya's strategic partnership with the US and described Biden meeting Uhuru as long overdue.

“I remain concerned, however, about deep government corruption, ongoing incidents of inter communal violence in several parts of the country, and increasing debt to China.

"Kenya is also preparing for a contentious election with a potentially violent ethnic dimension in 2022," he said.

 [email protected]