Uhuru first African leader to visit Biden’s White House

Wednesday, October 13th, 2021 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo/FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta is this afternoon poised to become the first African Head of State to be hosted by his United States (US) counterpart Joe Biden for a one-on-one in-person talks at the White House.

The historic meeting that comes at a time Kenya has assumed the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council, is expected to centre on peace and security, not only in the troubled Horn of Africa-but the entire continent, Covid-19 pandemic, economic partnerships, climate change and promotion of democracy and human rights.

The recently published Pandora Papers leak is also likely to feature when the two leaders discuss ways to “bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems”.

Experts in international relations believe Uhuru’s invite to the White House signifies the strategic position and role Kenya plays in global politics.

Kenya’s significance

The meeting comes hot on the heels of reports that the Biden administration is mulling imposing punitive sanctions on Ethiopia, over the worsening crisis in its northern part- the Tigray area, where thousands of people have been killed and millions are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance.

Press statements dispatched by State House and the White House indicated that the meeting would mark Biden’s first meeting with an African leader.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the two leaders would discuss “efforts to defend democracy and human rights, advance peace and security, accelerate economic growth and tackle climate change”.

“During the talks, President Uhuru and his American host are expected to discuss several matters of mutual interest to Kenya and the US, among them peace and security, economic partnerships and climate change,” said Kanze Dena-Mararo in her statement.

Kanze further disclosed that the meeting will be a continuation of the conversation the two leaders had via telephone in February this year.

During the February call-in, the two leaders discussed regional security and instability, as well as the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa, with Biden promising to offer Kenya “adequate support” towards the efforts.

The US leader also promised to collaborate with Kenya in tackling some of the major challenges facing the world such as climate change.

According to Prof Macharia Munene, formerly a lecturer at the USIU-Africa, Uhuru’s invitation to White House bolsters Kenya’s significance to the US, but also her role in world politics.

“That signifies the fact that Kenya remains one of the four African countries playing a major role in both African and world politics. It also buttresses the key role that Kenya plays as a communication centre in the East African region,” Munene told People Daily.

He noted that Biden and Uhuru are meeting at a time the two countries are trying to realign themselves in global politics, based on their interests.

“Remember US has been watching with a keen interest China’s growing influence in Africa, particularly in Kenya where the latter has been using transport projects to assert her influence. This is one area the two leaders are likely to touch on,” Munene said.

And although the statements from the White House and State House remained hushed on Tuesday’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the maritime border dispute between Kenya and Somalia, Munene believes it would be one of the topics of discussion at the meeting.

However, Prof Munene maintains that the ICJ ruling remains an advisory and is not binding since Kenya had already pulled out of the court’s jurisdiction by the time it was made.

Transparency and accountability

“This notwithstanding, however, the two leaders are likely to discuss the way forward on the issue.

I am certain the US cannot entertain an escalation of the dispute between Kenya and Somalia to a point of military intervention,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Hague-based court  made a ruling on the dispute that was largely in favour of Somalia, declaring that a sea boundary in the Indian Ocean believed to be rich in oil and gas, should be surrendered to Somalia.

The court drew a new boundary close to a line proposed by Somalia, giving away several offshore oil blocks claimed by Kenya.

And while Somalia welcomed the ruling, saying it was a result of its sacrifice and struggle”, Kenya has vowed to completely ignore it, insisting it will not cede an inch of her territory.

“I thank Allah for the fruit of the long struggle made by the Somalis in preventing Kenya’s desire to claim ownership of part of Somalia’s sea,” President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo said immediately after the ruling.

On his part, Uhuru, while addressing a UN Security Council meeting in New York, told journalists: “At the outset, Kenya wishes to indicate that it rejects in totality and does not recognise the findings in the decision.”

Munene says Kenya has relatively been vocal among African countries on the war in Ethiopia and even met the Ethiopian government over the issue.

Last month, Biden signed an Executive Order paving the way for possible sanctions, including against the Ethiopian government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for the role they played in prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access or committing serious human rights abuse.

“Kenya can play a central role in the search for a lasting solution to the Tigray conflict since it also borders Ethiopia,” says Munene.

On the security situation in the region, experts say Kenya has had a strong relationship with the US in efforts to thwart terrorism being perpetuated by the Al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa.

Another issue that is likely to feature, according to a statement from the White House is “the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems”.

Kenyatta family’s name appeared in the Pandora Papers leak of what the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists called a secret trove of documents detailing what they said were efforts by many global leaders to stockpile money in tax havens.

Though Uhuru said the expose would “go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe,” he promised to issue a comprehensive statement once he is back in the country.

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