US-Kenya relations based on equality, respect and dialogue

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BY ROBERT F. GODEC

As Kenya nears its 51st Jamhuri Day, Kenyans have much to celebrate. In recent years, Kenya has been on the move. Manufacturing and retail are expanding, and the country has a vibrant telecommunications market. Kenya is building infrastructure, and more Kenyans have access to education and healthcare. Kenyans enjoy the benefits of a progressive Constitution. But, Kenya also faces challenges, including improving security, creating jobs, and strengthening governance.

As a friend and partner since independence, the United States has stood with Kenya. We continue to do so now. We have achieved much together, but there are opportunities for us to deepen our friendship. In August, President Obama hosted the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington. His message was clear: the United States wants a new model of partnership with Africa. A partnership of equals. A partnership based on shared values and interests, and on mutual respect. That is our goal in Africa and it is our goal in Kenya.

Kenya is a leader in the region and what we do now with our partnership will have far-reaching effects. Looking ahead, three areas of cooperation will be particularly important: security, trade and investment, and governing for the future.

Security is vital for both Kenya and the United States. Americans understand and deeply appreciate the sacrifices Kenyans are making to restore peace and stability in Somalia. Kenya is a front-line state in the war against al-Shabaab. The atrocities and crimes carried out by this terrorist organisation, most recently in Mandera, make clear that we must continue to work together to defeat it and end the threat of violent extremism. Unless we do so, there will be no security for Kenya or East Africa.

As Kenya works to strengthen security, it can draw lessons from the successes – and failures – in the United States and elsewhere. These include the importance of security services that are effective in gathering information, cooperating across agency lines, and carrying out operations with respect for the rule of law and human rights. Leaders must work for national unity and citizens must be informed and involved. Most importantly, al-Shabaab cannot be allowed to stoke religious war or tribal conflict. Kenyans of all faiths and ethnicities must reach out to one another and build bridges of trust and respect.

To help Kenya’s security services, the United States provides extensive information and billions of shillings in training and equipment. Through our new Security Governance Initiative and other programs, we are working to expand our cooperation. Be assured: you are not alone. The United States stands with Kenya in the fight against terrorism and insecurity.

American trade and investment in Kenya are growing quickly. US companies have created tens of thousands of jobs here. They are looking for new opportunities to invest and are making commitments. Recently, we supported the financing of the 310 MW Lake Turkana Wind Power Project – the largest wind power project on the continent. Through Power Africa, we are backing additional projects to help meet Kenya’s ambitious power goals.

In November, I launched a new East African Trade and Investment Hub in Nairobi with a commitment of 5.8 billion shillings. Two US trade delegations have visited Kenya recently and there are plans for more. We are working to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, under which Kenyan companies are rapidly expanding exports to the United States. As Kenya looks to create jobs, it will need to take further steps to tackle corruption, simplify business regulation, build infrastructure, and create a regional common market. We are working with Kenya in each of these areas and are prepared to provide further support.

Finally, the United States is committed to deepening our partnership with Kenya on governing for the future. With its new constitution, Kenya began an extraordinary project to reinvent government. Settling crucial questions regarding Kenya’s new political institutions will take years. It is a difficult process – one Americans know well from our own experience with devolved power – but historians will see this as a time of momentous change.

As Kenya answers questions about devolution, it also has the opportunity to find new ways to reduce ethnic conflict, build confidence in institutions, and address long-standing grievances including those around land. A free media and strong civil society will help Kenya in these efforts. A free media is a cornerstone of democracy, promotes vibrant debate, and helps ensure good governance. Similarly, civil society, when it has the space to pursue its essential work, builds a better country. As in the United States, Kenyan civil society groups provide health care to families, feed children, protect wildlife, and give a voice to the voiceless. Civil society is free people solving problems. We should join hands with them.

In the 21st century, the United States will continue to be a strong partner to Kenya, just as President Obama has promised. And our partnership will be based on equality, respect and dialogue. Pamoja tusonge mbele. Happy birthday, Kenya.

(Godec is the US Ambassador to Kenya)

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