News / Africa

Kenya Becomes Difficult US Ally in Troubled Horn of Africa

Nico Colombant

As the United States government tries to help improve the volatile situation in the Horn of Africa, it has also had a difficult time with the regional heavyweight Kenya.   VOA reports on what American analysts are calling a frayed, but not broken, relationship with a long-standing ally.

The ongoing violence in Somalia, as well as persistent piracy in the Gulf of Aden, troubled election processes in Sudan and Ethiopia, and peace deals not being implemented, are some of the many issues the U.S. government is involved in in the Horn of Africa, either through military or diplomatic pressure.

Analysts say Kenya is supposed to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

But recently senior U.S officials raised concerns that refugees in eastern Kenya were being recruited to fight in Somalia, and Kenya's government is turning away captured pirates because it says it is not getting enough international money to boost its judicial system.

The U.S. government has also expressed its frustration with Kenya's national unity government over its slow pace of reform.

At the same time, Washington-based Africa expert Steven McDonald  says Kenya remains an important U.S. ally, which receives lots of American aid.  

A recent example is the United States committing $2.7 billion for the next five years to help fight HIV infection in Kenya.

"It is a little bit of a schizophrenic approach that we have here because Kenya has been a valued partner in many ways from trade and investment, to tourism, to the fight on international terrorism," said Steven McDonald.

Kenya's government has also been critical of U.S. policies.  Following a U.S. raid that killed a Kenyan-born alleged Islamic extremist in Somalia last year, Kenya's foreign minister said his country had not been warned about the operation.  Moses Wetangula said at the time it was a manifestation of what he called "Lone Ranger behavior."

There has been progress on reform.  Kenyan lawmakers recently approved a new constitution that will be submitted to a referendum.  If approved, it would eliminate the position of prime minister, create a Senate, and give more power to regions.

But McDonald, the Africa director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says many questions still remain on how the U.S. government should deal with Kenya.

"How tough do you get with Kenya?  How valuable is it as a partner?  I do not get the feeling that that is a decision that has been fully made within the administration as to how to proceed on Kenya, how tough to get with Kenya," he said. "And, the Kenyans, of course, are not helping the situation by being very defensive, by even openly being critical of people like the Secretary of State [Hillary Clinton] and Ambassador Johnnie Carson when they have come with firm messages, but always messages intended to indicate the value we give to the relationship."

During an African trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year, Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga said U.S. officials should not lecture Kenyans.  Many Kenyans also hoped President Barack Obama, whose late father was a Kenyan, would visit instead, and that his administration would be particularly helpful to Kenya.  Instead, they have gotten different signals.  

A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Kenyan Mwangi Kimenyi, thinks U.S. travel sanctions, which have been placed on more than a dozen senior Kenyan officials for allegedly trying to block reform, are misguided.

"The United States needs to be more strategic in dealing with Kenya, " said Mwangi Kimenyi. "I think there have been some missteps. A lot of the changes will have to come from the country itself.  I know that one of the main things the United States has done is to ban some visas of some government officials but I do not think that is the best way to go."

That is just one problem senior figures in Kenya face.

The International Criminal Court will begin investigations later this year into the deadly violence that followed Kenya's election in 2007.  Trials against major political leaders accused of being behind the violence could start in 2012, which is when the next election is scheduled.   

Tom Hull, a long-time high-level American diplomat in Africa, says the issue of an African ally with internal problems is nothing new.

"If we go back over the past few decades in Africa, we always come up against this conundrum, countries that are important to us in a bilateral relationship, but are not performing in terms of good governance the way we would hope they would," said Tom Hull. "So this is a chronic problem and it is not unusual.  All we have to do is try to be persistent, and focusing on our long term objectives in terms of democracy and one day these things may change."

Critics of this approach say African countries with important security or economic value are repeatedly given a pass by U.S. administrations on their internal shortcomings, and that strategic and financial interests always trump other considerations.   

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs