America’s relationship with the rest of the world under President Donald Trump has been frosty. His mantra of “America First” is an inward looking standpoint that locks out America from the outside world while seeking to propagate its supremacy. Bellicose and unapologetic, President Trump has rubbed many up the wrong way and widened gulf between nations.
Contrastingly, his predecessor Barack Obama had opened America to the world, traversed continents to build alliances and sought to establish the US as a friend rather than a patronising and domineering nation.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State visit to the US this weekend is a crucial development as it opens the doors for renewing engagement and redefining the relationship between Kenya and America. The US and Europe remain strong partners for Kenya. In the earlier years of its administration, the Jubilee Coalition consciously sought to diminish links with the West for reasons of selfish political preservation and instead aggressively reached out to the East. That was injudicious.
The result has been massive financial inflows from the East, which is ready to do business with African nations without conditions such as respect for human rights, political freedoms and democratic practices. China, the rising economic power, has since emerged as Kenya’s, and for that matter, Africa’s, major development partner. However, this has come with challenges. We are increasingly becoming so indebted to China because of the easy loans and unless strategic decisions are made sooner than later, is likely to throw Kenya into a financial crisis.
Even so, we cannot run away from the West. We have strong historical and economic links that cannot be cut so easily for political convenience. Kenya stands out as a strategic location for the West. It offers a vital base for security operations. And Nairobi is a key player in the region’s economic network, which is vital for the western nations.
Notably, Kenya has built strong liaisons with the US in recent years. Trade between the two countries is fast increasing. African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) that allows Kenya to export textile products to the US stands out as the key pillar in the economic relationship. Soon, Kenya Airways will begin flying to the US in a major aviation breakthrough that one, demonstrates confidence in Nairobi and two, promises to open up vast business and investment opportunities. For its part, America has been expanding its investment in the country and we believe there are more prospects for business engagements.
President Kenyatta’s visit, therefore, is vital in exploring new areas for joint cooperation for mutual benefits of the countries. Kenya has to keep its links with both the West and East but guard against exploitation by either. Strategic connections are paramount for nations that seek to expand influence at the international arena.