Why is the United States making Kenya its first ‘major ally’ in sub-Saharan Africa? | TV5MONDE

Why is the United States making Kenya its first ‘major ally’ in sub-Saharan Africa? | TV5MONDE
Why is the United States making Kenya its first ‘major ally’ in sub-Saharan Africa? | TV5MONDE

“Tonight, the White House shines thanks to our guests”, declared Joe Biden to the Kenyan delegation, while toasting them. Under this tent set up on the lawn of the president’s residence on Thursday May 24, in front of 500 guests, William Ruto replied: “I thank you very sincerely […] the welcome we received and the hospitality of the American people was exceptional”.

During this state visit, the first by an African leader to Washington since 2008, Kenya was elevated to the rank of“major ally, non-NATO member” the United States. Concretely, this status offers military and economic advantages to countries which have them without being integrated into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Now 20 countries benefit from it, including Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt in Africa. Kenya is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to receive this title.

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The American president adds: “This is the culmination of years of collaboration. Our joint counterterrorism operations have reduced the Islamic State and al-Shabab Islamist terrorist movement across East Africa. Our joint work on Haiti helps pave the way to reducing instability and insecurity”.

If Washington is betting a lot on Kenya, it is because it sees it as a haven of democratic stability, in addition to an economic locomotive. Joe Biden also promises to visit the country in the coming months, in addition to establishing a new strategic trade agreement by the end of the year.

A status which seals a cooperation already well established

“Kenya is a medium-sized country which does not experience coups, jihadism, hysterical nationalism, which has a little money and which has a reasonable territory”, notes Gérard Prunier, historian specializing in the Horn of Africa, to justify the American choice. Anthropologist specializing in Kenya Benoît Hazard adds that the country benefits from geopolitical stability, while benefiting from a strategic geographical position.

“There are very strong ties between the United States and Kenya”, specifies the anthropologist. Strategic support in key sectors is important. The United States is Kenya’s third export partner and this could become more pronounced with the vote on a free trade treaty.

(Re)see United States: state visit by Kenyan President William Ruto

Technology giants such as Google and Microsoft have their African headquarters in Nairobi and plan to soon invest $20 billion, according to Kenyan authorities. The renewable energy development sector is also at the heart of investments. New partnerships have also been launched in the fight against malaria and AIDS, as well as in education.

Finally, US military support is constant in Kenya, particularly on the Somali border, to fight against the Islamist terrorist movement Harakat al-Chabab al-Mujahidin.

Military cooperation with the United States

Al-Shabab claims deadly and high-profile attacks in Kenya. In 2013, for example, a raid on the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi left more than 70 people dead. And since the start of 2024, around thirty attacks in the country have been claimed by the Somali terrorist group, according to data collected by the British media BBC. The United States is cooperating closely to fight al-Shabab and signed a $100 million defense deal in September 2023. Support is also provided to secure the Great Lakes region, in the southwest of the country.

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Washington can also rely on Kenya to deal with the security and political crisis in Haiti. Nairobi is preparing to send a total of 1,000 police officers to lead an international mission, under UN mandate, to fight armed gangs that control almost the entire capital Port-au-Prince. Two hundred have already been there since May 23. This deployment is a symbol of close security collaboration between the United States and Kenya.

Kenya, a country close to China and Russia

The two governments have launched an appeal, according to the American president, to allow “to countries strangled by debt” to have access to “transparent, sustainable and accessible lending practices”. But Kenya’s biggest creditor is China. Beijing has launched numerous investment projects across the continent, causing very heavy debts in certain situations. Kenya’s debt to China stands at nearly $70 billion.

William Ruto, who visited Beijing last October, said the United States now had the opportunity to completely review its strategy for Africa and strengthen its support for the continent.

(Re)read The EU signs a trade agreement with Kenya to counter the Chinese presence

In addition to China, the United States also faces Russia in Africa, which is advancing its pawns militarily. Niger, for example, has just demanded the departure of American troops from its soil, while establishing military cooperation with Moscow.

The Kenyan president also called on Washington to extend an agreement that opens the American market to several African countries, the “African Growth and Opportunity Act”. The latter is due to expire in 2025.



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