GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Kenya's long wish list as Trump era nears an end

Reproductive health care and the environment will be some of the biggest beneficiaries of Biden’s presidency.

In Summary
  • His accomodative policy is likely to inspire confidenc in the global market and iron out volatilities. 
  • Biden also taking the reins at the time trade talks between Kenya and the US are at advanced stage.
Joe Biden addressing the nation.
PRESIDENT-ELECT: Joe Biden addressing the nation.
Image: COURTESY

Kenya’s economy is expected to calm under US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, a relief from the volatilities arising from trade wars orchestrated by Donald Trump’s four years.

Just as in other African countries, local traders and consumers alike have directly or indirectly suffered the effects of ‘big brother wars’, especially between the US and China. The two superpowers are scrambling for the continent's resources, infrastructure deals and political friendship.

The dilemma - how to appease the two biggest economies - has seen infrastructure projects like the Mombasa–Nairobi highway stall, necessitated currency fluctuations and hurt traders and consumers as the cost of doing business has risen.

Biden’s election to the White House is expected to wipe out those volatilities to the benefit of import-dependent countries like Kenya.

His moderate and open diplomatic tone is also likely to appeal to many Kenyans seeking greener pastures in the US after the Trump era of possible bans and deportations.

Biden's presidency is likely to improve the country’s diaspora remittances, Kenya’s highest forex earner, with the US accounting for more than 50 per cent.

The former Vice President is also taking up the reins at a time when trade talks between Kenya and the US are at an advanced stage. The two countries formally launched negotiations for a free trade agreement in July.

His election as the captain of the world’s biggest economy is also likely to increase Africa’s hopes of renewing the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which expires in 2025.

The trade agreement signed at the beginning of the century provides eligible Sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free access to the US market for more than 1,800 products. Further, more than 5,000 products are eligible for duty-free access under the Generalised System of Preferences programme.

The US is the third most important destination for Kenyan exports after Uganda and Pakistan, accounting for eight per cent of its total exports. Kenya exported goods worth $527 million (Sh57.4 billion) in 2018, primarily apparel, coffee and nuts.

Its imports were mainly commercial aeroplanes and other aircraft, polymers and medicine. It has a slim trade surplus the US will probably be keen to balance.

Kenya’s reproductive healthcare system and environment will also be some of the biggest beneficiaries of Biden’s presidency.

In the last four years, the country and organisations working here have lost billions of shillings in development support mainly through Trump’s policy of 'America First' and the global gag rule or the Mexico City Policy.

The global gag rule prohibits foreign NGOs that receive US global health assistance from providing legal abortion services or referrals, while also barring advocacy for abortion law reform—even if it’s done with the NGOs' own, non-US funds.

They lose all US funding if they as much as mention that legal abortion is available in some cases.

Every Democratic president has vacated the policy.

Under the America First doctrine, the Trump administration also effected significant cuts in the global health budget.

For instance, since 2017, the administration reduced the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief funding to Kenya by Sh20 billion. This grounded Kenya’s blood bank for several months last year and stopped most HIV awareness and testing campaigns.

When Trump took office in January 2017, he implemented an expanded version of the global gag rule, which impacted not just family planning NGOs, but all US global health assistance.

The expansion covered work unrelated to family planning, including projects related to HIV/Aids, nutrition, malaria, water and sanitation, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

NGOs working with communities in Kenya were forced to close shop or drastically reduce operations.

Biden is expected to vacate it.

He is also expected to restore US contributions to the UN Fund for Population Activities, about $69 million every year, stopped by Trump since 2017. The UNFPA in Kenya has been forced to suspend some projects due to limited funding.

Biden is also expected to reinstate US membership to the World Health Organization, after Trump pulled out in May, claiming the organization had mismanaged the Covid-19 response.

The US absence from the WTO is particularly concerning as scientists across the world work on developing a vaccine against Covid-19.

US also refused to join the WHO-led Covax Facility, which will make the Covid-19 vaccine widely available in Kenya.

Biden has already committed to supporting the WHO, paving the way for joining the international Covax Facility.

Biden has also said he will have the United States rejoin the Paris climate accord. It will again make the US an active partner of more than 190 nations that have committed to limiting global warming to 1.5–2 oC above pre-industrial levels. 

(Edited by V. Graham)