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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs