Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Significance of John Kerry East Africa Visit

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited three countries in East Africa. The visit to Kenya and Djibouti was open in his itinerary but his visit to Somalia was surprising to say the least and according to FP's David Francis "too dangerous". It has been said that his visit to Kenya was to make preparations for President Obama's visit in July. For Kenya, a country that has suffered the brunt of terrorism in the past few years, Kerry's visit and that of President Obama, is a welcome sign of American support to Kenya's fight against Al Shabaab. Kerry's visit further highlight the strides Kenya has made in reshaping her foreign policy which, after the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto was stained. Kenya's foreign affairs docket headed by Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed has been transformed remarkably. The country has been able to balance its international obligations well by luring new friends and even rediscovering old foes. An example was Kenya's welcoming of Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in February where they discussed trade and investment between the two countries. 
John Kerry in Kenya


John Kerry while in Kenya met and discussed on various issues with top government officials, members of the opposition and civil societies. Of greater significance was the US pledge of $100 million to boost counter-terrorism in Kenya and a further $45 million to go to refugee aid. John Kerry also pledged support for deradicalization programs to prevent the youth from joining terror networks. US support for counter-terrorism will include intelligence sharing, law enforcement and border security. Although this support does not come without strings, it is a welcome addition to Kenya's fight against terrorism. Kerry's visit comes a month after the Garrisa university attacks that claimed 147 souls. 

Kerry's surprise visit to Somalia, a first for a US Secretary of State further buttress US efforts to combat violent extremism. It also showed according to Kerry "Washington's Commitment" to renewed ties between the two countries. Kerry met with Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud at the country's airport and later returned to Kenya. Key in their talks was insecurity caused by the Al Shabaab militant group. Kerry promised increased support of the AU mission to Somalia. 

Kerry in Somali - Picture courtesy of FP
Bradley Klapper reporting for Associated Press says Kerry's visit to Djibouti as one that highlights the importance of small nations in US policy. However, Djibouti remains a crucial state in the geopolitical setup of the Horn of Africa. The small country is base to US troops in Camp Lemmonier. With the ongoing Saudi airstrikes in Yemen aimed at Houthi rebels, it is expected that many Yemeni citizens will flee and take refuge in Somalia and Djibouti. Kerry will discuss the Yemen crisis together with his host President Omar Guelleh. 

Kerry while in Kenya also spoke on the Burundi situation which according to analysts is in the brink of a civil crisis. Pierre Nkurunziza, the Burundian president is seeking a third term contrary to the constitution and the Arusha reconciliation Accords. Protesters have since taken to the streets to oppose Nkurunziza's decision. Significantly, Kerry's East Africa visit illustrates US commitment to fighting terrorism in the region. For Kenya, the visit is another foreign policy triumph after a previous backlash and seemingly isolation.