Kenya, US begin new era of security and technology ties

Friday, May 24th, 2024 09:30 | By
President William Ruto, US President Joe Biden and their spouses Rachel and Jill at the White House, Washington, DC, yesterday. PHOTO/ Ellly Kware, pcs

The imminent deployment of Kenyan police officers to Haiti that coincided with President William Ruto’s state visit to the United States unlocked a bag of goodies for Kenya to be invested in security infrastructure and the digital economy.

During the five-day visit, US President Joe Biden laid out the red carpet for President Ruto in a ceremony granted to only a handful of close allies.  Ruto’s visit is the first by an African Head of State since 2008.

Ruto and Biden deliberated on Kenya’s commitment to send 1,000 security officers to the fragile, chaotic Caribbean nation. The initiative, for which the US has pledged $300 million in support, faces stiff political and legal challenges in Kenya.

While the US has refused to contribute forces to the United Nations-backed initiative, Washington has nonetheless become Kenya’s loudest supporter and the mission’s biggest funder even as Nairobi faces domestic challenges over the strategy.

Delegation to Haiti

A delegation of Kenyan officials arrived in Haiti on Monday afternoon as part of an assessment team to inspect their constructed base and airport.

The delegation, which landed on board a Sunrise Airways flight, is expected to hold several meetings including with the United Nations Integrated Office in Port-au-Prince.

Deputy Inspector General of Administration Police Noor Gabow is leading the team that visited Port-au-Prince last year for planning and reconnaissance.

Gabow will serve as the force commander of the Multinational Security Support Mission and has already arrived in the gang violence-hit country.

Ruto’s tour of the White House saw Kenya designated the first major non-NATO ally in sub-Saharan Africa, securing  a $1 billion (Sh133 billion) deal to boost its digital economy ecosystem, and signing another for a Sh471billion Nairobi-Mombasa expressway with US infrastructure funder Everstrong Capital LLC.

The 440km toll road will be a four-to-six-lane dual carriageway. The significant strategic move signals the shifting of US security cooperation to East Africa just as US troops prepare to depart Niger, leaving a vacuum that Russian forces have begun to fill.

The designation gives non-members of Nato access to military and financial advantages that  members of that alliance enjoy, but without the mutual defence agreement that holds the alliance together.

The move aims at “elevating and really acknowledging that Kenya is already a global partner of ours”.

Training for KDF

Washington also made commitments worth millions of dollars towards several efforts the US sees as key to development. Those include areas like democracy, health, education, arts and culture, climate management, trade, technology, and the one item Ruto said was his main priority on his four-day swing through the US: work to restructure African nations’ crippling debt to the world’s largest creditor, China.

And for the first time, members of the Kenya Defence Forces are scheduled to become candidates for courses at the US Military Academy, while the country is expected to receive 16 US-manufactured helicopters between late 2024 and summer 2025 to bolster its ability to provide regional peace and security (eight Huey helicopters) and participate in peacekeeping missions (eight MD-500s).

The two countries will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to expand Manda Bay Airfield in coastal Kenya by building a 10,000-foot runway. The expanded facility would  provide Kenya the required infrastructure to increase operations against the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

Besides, the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism announced $18.7 million to help build the Kenyan criminal justice system’s ability to address terrorism threats in a manner consistent with the rule of law.  The money will provide training, mentorship, and equipment to investigators, forensic examiners, law enforcement, court officials, and prosecutors.

The Biden administration intends to provide $1.5 million in new technical assistance to support Kenya’s electoral legal framework reform process aimed at strengthening the election commission, political parties, and campaign finance.

At the meeting, Ruto was accompanied by, among others, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Trade and Investment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano. US ambassador to Kenya Meg  Whitman was also present.

Rare opportunity

It marked 60 years of diplomatic ties and the beginning of a new era of technological cooperation between the two nations, further pointing to the strategic importance of Kenya to the US as a leading regional anchor and the main commercial gateway to eastern Africa.

Ruto expressed his pleasure at being accorded the rare opportunity to market Kenya as a lucrative destination for American investors, as well as cementing the deepening of cooperation between Kenya and the global superpower.

“We believe that as we celebrate these 60 years of relationship between our two countries, we also celebrate the opportunities that come with a friendship that exists between our two countries,” Ruto said.

To tap into the technological advances of the US, Ruto said his government would work with US companies as Kenya embarks on extending internet connections down to the ward level.

“We are expanding our footprint in the digital space. We are rolling out 100,000km of fibre-optic cable in Kenya to connect every ward and every village to the fibre backbone to make sure that e-commerce, digital jobs and digital learning are accessible to every child in Kenya,” Ruto told Biden.

“We are very proud that we are going to work with American companies because we have already agreed on the kind of investments that need to be fashioned between our two sides.”

He also vouched for Kenya’s young people regarding job opportunities in the digital-economy sphere where US tech companies are the leading employers globally.

“Our young population, talented, educated, innovative, and American technology that is cutting-edge, and investment capital and investors that are hungry for opportunity not just in Kenya but across the continent is a perfect match for this moment,” Ruto said.

“We’ve had twinning relationships between Silicon Savannah in Kenya and Silicon Valley in the US, and this meeting is about what we can do together around digital jobs, business process outsourcing, research and development.”

He hailed the CHIPS Act enacted by the US Congress in August 2022, noting that it will create a wealth of opportunities for investment between Kenya and the US.

“We have semiconductor companies here from Kenya and fintech corporates as well, one of them being M-Pesa, and we are going to be discussing the opportunities in that space,” he added.

Biden offers support

For his part, President Biden reiterated the significance of Kenya as a key ally of the US in Africa, offering to support the country in its digital transformation journey.

“As we honour 60 years of ties between our countries, it’s clear that our people are the true strength of this partnership and a partnership that’s working well,” Biden said. “Nowhere is it more important than in the realm of innovation. That’s why we have so many businesses around this table from Silicon Valley to Silicon Savannah.”

He went on: “And we’ve invested in new industries that have generated billions of dollars economically, and they’ve created new opportunities that have lifted our countries across both our continents and our people and our innovators have also been brought together.”

He added: “We’re going to see more technological change in the next 10 years. I’ve been saying this for a long time, and I mean it. We need your help to seize this moment. We really do. And we need your effort. We need you to help us find opportunities to bring the public and private sectors together.”

He urged Ruto to strengthen supply chains and industries in Kenya, including the clean energy and e-commerce sectors, to make technological partnerships and innovation possible between the two countries.

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