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October 19, 2018

Uhuru-Trump meet: Kenya still chasing better trade with the US

Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Alpha Conde (Guines), Donald Trump (US), Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and French President Emmanuel Macron pose for a photo with other participants of the G7 summit at Taormina in Sicily, Italy, May 27, 2017. /REUTERS
Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Alpha Conde (Guines), Donald Trump (US), Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and French President Emmanuel Macron pose for a photo with other participants of the G7 summit at Taormina in Sicily, Italy, May 27, 2017. /REUTERS

In July 2015, Barack Obama made a historic trip as the first sitting US President to visit Kenya, a tour hailed to have reinforced the strong ties between the American and Kenyan people.

During the visit, Kenya signed several pacts with the US which signalled a deepening of bilateral relations in trade and investment.

President Obama at that time said discussions on the prospects of introducing direct flights between the two countries were ongoing.

Three years down the line, Uhuru is expected to launch the maiden direct flight to Washington on October 28.

This move has also seen JKIA ranked among the best International airports in the world following drastic renovations.

"It is our hope that this will be actualised very soon so that we can ease the movement of people and goods between the two countries," Obama said then.

Kenya and the US also came up with an action plan that would see increased financial support for the military, judiciary, and the police.

The Kenyan military was to receive counter-terrorism aid under the Peacekeeping Operations programme through the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counter-terrorism.

Read: Celebrating the ties that bind us

Obama committed an undisclosed additional funding to help Kenya in the war on terror.

The country received $100 million in a US counter-terrorism aid package, up from $38 million the previous year.

Out of this amount, $95.25 million will go to the military while the remaining $4.75 million goes to the police.

He said the money would be used to train security forces, reach out to communities that have been infiltrated by extremism and enhance border security.

Kenya and US signed agreements on fighting poverty and malnutrition, with most of the support targeted at health programmes.

Uhuru at the time asked the Obama administration to continue supporting Kenya, especially in the health and energy sectors.

The bilateral talks also centred on the instability in the region owing to the conflicts in South Sudan and Burundi.

President Obama called on the warring South Sudan parties to hasten the signing of peace agreements. The deal was reached on Monday.

And in line with Kenya's commitment to helping end the crisis, Uhuru was in Khartoum to witness South Sudan's Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar sign a power-sharing pact.

Read: Kenya signs deals worth Sh10 billion with US, Big Four top agenda

Kenya's uncontrolled corruption also featured in the 2015 talks, with Obama saying he was happy with Kenya’s progress on fighting corruption.

He said the US had signed a joint commitment with Kenya in order to increase transparency and accountability between the two countries.

This commitment saw Uhuru take action against members of the Cabinet who had been mentioned in corrupt dealings.

Fast forward to this year, the President Uhuru recently ordered a lifestyle audit for all public servants and even proposed the use of lie detectors to weed out the vice.


US President Donald Trump, who is serving his first term since his election in November 2016, has invited Uhuru to the White House on August 27.

The two leaders will discuss ways of broadening their strategic partnership based on shared democratic values and mutual interests.

A press statement from the White House described Kenya as a vital partner of the United States.

It says that Trump and Uhuru's meeting will reaffirm the long-standing relationship between the countries with a view of Kenya as a cornerstone of peace and stability in Africa, and the broader Indo-Pacific region.

Read: What's in it for us? Kenyans ask Uhuru on Trump's White House invite

The two leaders will also explore ways to bolster trade and investment while strengthening security cooperation, White House said on Monday.

Trump pledged to support Kenya's unity and peace initiative marked by the handshake by Uhuru and Opposition chief Raila Odinga.

There are mixed reactions to the trip with political observers saying a Trump-Uhuru discussion means well for Kenyan democracy.

Kenya, thus, remains one of the most pro-American nations in Africa and the world, seemingly more so than the US itself.

According to the US State Department fact-sheet, as an important developing partner in East Africa, Kenya is a significant recipient of US foreign assistance.

This is on economic stability, security, health, education, environment, rule of law, and democratic governance.

Other forms of support are efforts to counter violent extremism and combating wildlife trafficking.

After Obama visited the country in 2015, the United States became the third largest destination for Kenya’s exports and the seventh largest source of its imports in 2017.

The United States was the number one source of foreign tourist arrivals to Kenya in 2016 and 2017.

US private sector interest in Kenya remains robust with numerous American companies engaged in Kenya, especially within the technology, consumer services, banking, and finance sectors.

Many American companies have their regional or Africa-wide headquarters in Nairobi. Kenya enjoys preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

US exports to Kenya include agricultural products, aircraft parts, and machinery with imports including apparel, coffee, and tea.

Read: Reject cancer of corruption completely, US tells Kenyans


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Nairobi in 2009 and 2012 and Secretary of State John Kerry also visited in 2015.

Vice President Joe Biden visited Nairobi in 2010. Uhuru has visited the US twice officially while President.

Kenya and the United States have long been close allies and have enjoyed cordial relations since Kenya's independence.

Relations became even closer after Kenya's democratic transition of 2002 and subsequent improvements in human rights.

This was preceded by sometimes frosty interludes during President Daniel arap Moi's regime when the two countries often clashed over bad governance issues, resulting in aid suspension and many diplomatic rows.

Following Uhuru's election in 2013, relations with the US somewhat took a dip when he forged a new foreign policy looking east away from traditional western allies.

Kenya's participation in the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon has been viewed to have increased ordinary Americans' consciousness of the country.

The 1998 bomb attack targetting the US Embassy in Kenya, and subsequent hits by the al Shabaab, has drawn the two countries politically closer due to the shared fate.

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