- African Growth and Opportunity Act
TRALAC - Trade Law Centre
You are here: Home/News/Article/Biden cranks up diplomatic charm offensive in Kenya

Biden cranks up diplomatic charm offensive in Kenya

Biden cranks up diplomatic charm offensive in Kenya
President William Ruto with Ambassador Katherine Tai
Published date:
Saturday, 29 July 2023

In a span of two weeks, US President Joe Biden has dispatched two senior members of his administration to Nairobi with a firm message to President William Ruto on good governance, human rights and a subtle push on the geopolitics surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And Kenya, a longtime Western ally, is under pressure to maintain trading ties with the US.

The timing of the visit was significant as Russia hosted over 17 African leaders out of the expected 43 on Thursday and Friday, with promises of free Russian grain “to replace” Ukrainian grain export arrangement known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI).

Moscow pulled out of BSGI last week, accusing Ukraine of diverting it from poor recipients.

On Friday, Brian Nelson, the US Department of Treasury’s Undersecretary for Counterterrorism and Financial Intelligence, met and held talks with President Ruto on matters of security, terrorism, food security and money laundering among others.

“Kenya will continue working with the US government to strengthen its laws and regulations on money laundering and financial terrorism,” said Dr Ruto tweeted soon after the talks at State House, Mombasa.

“A firm regulatory and administrative enforcement on the source and flow of illicit funds will effectively promote integrity and stability in our financial system, thereby spur economic growth.”

Before Nelson, President Biden dispatched Katherine Tai, Trade Representative.

As a member of Biden’s Cabinet, Ambassador Tai is the principal trade adviser, negotiator, and spokesperson on US trade policy and her visit was significant because the two countries are currently negotiating the US-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Left out

Unlike the Economic Partnership Agreement that Kenya recently signed with the EU, the Office of the US Trade Representative is opting for tariffs to be left out of negotiations entirely, in line with the current US stance on trading with the rest of the world.

The trade negotiations are still ongoing. But Tai, who was making her second visit to Kenya on July 17, caused a storm within President Ruto’s government when she declined to meet Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, in a subtle protest over his latter’s tweets and remarks including an attack on the media, opposition demonstrations and lack of decorum in his engagement with the public on social media.

In Kenya, Nelson also met with Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u, Ruto’s economic advisor Adan Mohamed and Augustine Cheruiyot, head of the Economic Transformation Secretariat.

Mr Cheruiyot is also Ruto’s chief adviser on food security and agriculture.

International Relations and Diplomacy expert Dr Peter Mwencha views the latest visit by the two high ranking US officials as significant in a sense that Kenya has always looked to the West and perhaps the Washington administration was around to strengthen the ties amidst the onslaught from Russia.

“We have traditionally been allied to the Americans and this is not something new. If you put it in the current situation where President Ruto is not participating in the Russia-Africa summit, it is not something that you can ignore,” said Dr Mwencha.

“If Kenya considers itself a US ally, Americans have certain expectations from Kenya. The reality is that the US would expect Kenya to support it by aligning to its policies.

During Nelson’s visit, mitigating the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was clearly on his agenda as Russian President Vladimir Putin met other African leaders in a summit that President Ruto did not attend.

Nelson’s visit was significant in as far as the US- Russia relations are concerned, in that a day before he arrived, the State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohamed on Wednesday, July 26 revealed that President William Ruto could not attend during a live briefing.

He (Ruto) will be represented by the organs of the Africa Union. This decision aligns with the stance of African Heads of State and Government, who believe that in order for Africa to engage in meaningful discussions with global partners,” said Mohamed.

One of the major reasons why the US is keen on Kenya is the significant role the country plays in security in the region.

“The US being a security first oriented foreign policy, that obviously is critical to their bilateral relationship with Kenya. That means that Kenya is supposed to support the US policies that they are championing,” said Dr Mwencha.

The latest travel by Under Secretary Nelson to Nairobi, Kenya and Mogadishu, Somalia was to underscore the US commitment to strengthening financial connections with Africa, fight against terrorism and money laundering.


Read related news articles

USTR releases summaries from US – Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations

Consistent with the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to the highest levels of transparency in trade agreement negotiations, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) today released summaries of texts proposed by the U.S. side on good regulatory practices, workers’ rights and protections, and a second tranche of agriculture text. Negotiations on these texts are ongoing. USTR will negotiate the workers’...

08 April 2024

US-Kenya: Ruto’s US state visit needs to navigate America’s uncertain political future

President William Ruto will visit the United States on a State Visit in May during what is likely to be one of the most turbulent US elections in memory. Barring some miracle, or catastrophe, the US presidential election will be a showdown between the same two contenders—albeit older and less energetic—as in 2020. The US presidential election in November is the most significant geopolitical risk event of 2024. Its outcome could result in...

26 February 2024

US President Biden to welcome Kenyan President Ruto to the White House in May

President Joe Biden plans to welcome Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House in May, hosting a state visit after reneging on his promise to visit Africa last year. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that the visit set for May 23 will mark the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Kenya diplomatic relations and "celebrate a partnership that is delivering for the people" of both countries while affirming "our strategic...

18 February 2024

US keen to strengthen Kenya’s public procurement system as trade talks resume [incl. Readout]

The US plans to strengthen Kenya’s public procurement systems in what is seen as a strategy to put in place sound structures ahead of the planned trade pact. This comes as talks on the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) resumed last week with a meeting in Nairobi. Kenya is pushing for the deal and renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which expires next year. Washington in a statement on Tuesday said the...

07 February 2024

US officials to fast-track talks on Kenya-US Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP)

US authorities will expedite negotiations on the Kenya-US Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) and consider extending the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond its expiry next year. Prime Cabinet Secretary and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Musalia Mudavadi who spoke after a meeting with US Secretary for State Mr Tony Blinken said these initiatives will facilitate expanded duty and quota-free access...

02 February 2024

Kenya, US trade talks resume in Nairobi, go for common ground

The third round of the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) negotiations between Kenya and the United States opened in Nairobi yesterday. Investment, Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano said Kenya’s delegation is being led by Trade Principal Secretary Alfred K’Ombudo.  The main agenda items for the meeting which wraps up tomorrow revolve around agriculture, good regulatory practices, and workers’ rights...

30 January 2024

Kenya, US talks shift to agriculture

Kenya and the United States are set to begin talks on contentious clauses in a proposed bilateral trade deal amid fears the agreement could flood the market with cheap agricultural imports from America. The delayed third in-person round of talks will focus on agriculture, good regulatory practices and workers’ rights and protections, according to a statement from the US Trade Representative Office (USTR). The three-day negotiations...

27 January 2024

Kenya-US far from trade deal as year ends

Kenya’s hopes of concluding a trade deal with the US by end of this year seem unlikely pushing the long draw talks into next year. The Kenyan government had in March this year expressed optimism of sealing a deal before the year ends, in its quest to secure preferential trade terms way before the expiry of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), in September 2025.  Kenya and the US have held three rounds of in-person negotiations...

21 December 2023

Kenya-US to deepen ICT, apparel and agriculture trade

Kenya and United States are in talks to identify areas of interest in information communication technology (ICT) sector that can interest US firms.  A meeting between The US Ambassador to Kenya, Megan Whitman, and the Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade, and Industry Rebecca Miano, the states sought cooperation in six key areas. The meeting laid the groundwork for an enhanced collaboration between Kenya and the United States in...

09 November 2023

Optimism as Kenya-US trade deal enters 3rd round of negotiations

Trade negotiations between Kenya and the United States entered the third round last week, with four items listed for negotiations. The Kenya-US Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) negotiations, held from October 4-7 in Washington DC, covered agriculture and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, services, domestic regulations, anti-corruption; and women, youth among others. The Kenyan trade team also held discussions with...

16 October 2023

Kenya-US trade agreement 'may need a rethink on workers'

The US and Kenya announced a trade and investment partnership in July 2022. Talks have been progressing on the way forward in nine areas, including agriculture, anti-corruption, digital trade, environment and climate change action, and workers’ rights and protections. The Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) will be the first significant trade partnership between the US and a country in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries in the...

16 August 2023

You are here: Home/News/Article/Biden cranks up diplomatic charm offensive in Kenya