BY KARANJA KIBICHO
It’s a mark of how disconnected some of the conversation in the media has become from the plain facts, that we often see it asserted as plain truth that Government has abandoned our Western partners, done nothing to promote Kenyan trade, and is actually making our regional security worse by its participation in peace-keeping initiatives in Kenya.
In the aftermath of the recent US-Africa summit, the holding of which amounted to an unprecedented recognition of Africa’s new importance, at least some of these thoughts are now ready to be put to bed.
In particular, the summit and its aftermath saw distinct gains in trade, regional security and our foreign affairs – gains which ought to make clear the bankruptcy of the claims so often made by ill-informed critics.
The President himself set the mood, when he made it perfectly clear during his visit that Kenya and the United States, as well as other Western countries, shared unbreakable bonds. The facts, he said, showed that the long collaboration between the US and Kenya had been exceptionally fruitful – from the airlifts that took the best and brightest of Kenyans to the US to prepare them to serve the independent republic, to the recent massive support given to Kenya’s inaugural Eurobond by American investors.
And the relationship is not just based on exchange, as he pointed out, but also on values: it was the United States which gave crucial support for Kenya’s independence, believing, as it did, that the days of empire were long gone. The support was made concrete in several ways, not least by the arrival of Thurgood Marshall to assist in the drafting of Kenya’s independence constitution.
It is precisely because this relationship remains intact despite new opportunities and new partners, that the braying of the critics is both misguided and easily ignored. It is true, however, that we in Kenya have often underestimated and under-utilised the opportunities available in our partnership with the Americans.
In particular, we have not done enough to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act. That must, and will, change; and we have already begun to deepen our engagement with the programme.
That was evident at the summit. Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohammed was part of the Africa ministerial team that led negotiations for the extension of AGOA, and advocated a 15-year extension to promote investment in textiles for the long term. This fits the Jubilee Government’s identification of the textile sector as a priority for the current financial year.
President Barack Obama was optimistic that Congress would approve the arrangements discussed. The Cabinet Secretary also met senior representatives of both Philips Van Heusen (the second largest apparel importers in the US) and Jones Apparel. They gave an indicative value of potential investment in the East African region of US$1 billion.
We were happy to encourage them, since it is clear that this sort of new investment, especially in textiles, leather and agro-processing translates directly into wealth and jobs for Kenyans.
The global players, GAP and Walmart, also pledged to follow through on proposed supply-chain investments in Kenya.
In the near term, this means that we expect increased orders for apparel from Kenyan manufacturers in coming months, with knock-on effects for jobs.
In regional security, it was agreed at the summit that Kenya would be one of six countries to join President Obama’s Security Governance Initiative.
The program, worth US$64 million annually for three to five years, will strengthen our ties with the US in the provision of security.
Under its terms, the US and Kenya will conduct a joint assessment of the security threats and opportunities; before developing a strategic plan to guide investments in the area; and then applying US technical expertise and other resources to advance the plan.
It was notable, in this connection, that President Obama very publicly committed US support to the continuing fight against terror, and to the region’s stability.
It was even more notable that John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, made clear that he shared substantial parts of Kenya’s own assessment of the security situation in the region. And, in the aftermath of the summit, Kenya’s push for sound international relations continued.
With the recent reshuffle and reorganisation of Government, and in particular, the nomination of ambassadors, Kenya will soon have full representation in all key centres: in China, the US, the UK, India, Brazil, Angola, Nigeria, S Africa, and a number of other important countries, both inside and outside the continent.
It is clear that our economic diplomacy is poised to take off. The facts, then, speak for themselves. Even before the summit, the narrative of withdrawal from the world was false, as was the story told that we were out of touch with the region.
In the wake of the summit, it has become clear, no doubt to the dismay of critics, that Kenya is fully engaged with the world, and ready to make the most of the opportunities that now present themselves.
(Dr Kibicho is the Principal Secretary for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade)