- 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

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

US says AGOA renewal still an option for Kenya

The US says it may consider proposing to its lawmakers an extension of duty- and quota-free access to its market for sub-Saharan countries when the current deal expires in May 2025. [ note: AGOA removes standard import tariffs, but not quotas).  United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, said another renewal of the preferential trade programme depends on the US Congress, but her office could facilitate it. “We are...

22 July 2023

Some uncertainty as negotiations on the US-Kenya trade agreement proceed without a fixed timetable

A recent report has shown that the United States is unsure when discussions for a free trade agreement with Kenya would be completed, notwithstanding the fact that Nairobi previously stated that the talks would be completed by December. The United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who wrapped up a three-day visit in Nairobi on Wednesday, stated that the US negotiators do not have a timetable for ending discussions or signing the...

20 July 2023

Kenya's president meets US delegates on trade and investments

Kenyan President William Ruto has today held talks with US Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai. The discussions were based on US trade policy. Ruto said that the country is ready to strengthen the already existing relations between the two nations. "We will stretch our ties beyond the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in the wake of advanced technology and climate change, for the full exploitation of our trade potential,"...

19 July 2023

US trade rep in Nairobi as Kenya's solo deals worry the EAC block [incl. Readouts]

The US trade representative is in Nairobi to co-lead a meeting that seeks Kenya's partnership in a fresh trade deal. The Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA Council) is pursuing various agreements even as regional peers express concern over Kenya's solo approach.  Yesterday, Trade Representative, Katherine Tai met patron circle members of the American Chamber of Commerce-Kenya (AmCham Kenya) ahead of today's...

17 July 2023

USTR releases summaries from US-Kenya STIP 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  ( Download the document alongside or in the Kenya-US STIP section) proposed by the U.S. side during the first negotiating round of the United States-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP),...

23 May 2023

Why Africa, why Kenya? Remarks by US Ambassador to Kenya

Thank you, Scott, for the kind introduction. It is a pleasure to partner with the Prosper Africa initiative to drive investment in Kenya and countries across the African continent. I am happy to kick off our U.S.-Kenya Business Roadshow with all of you today, and to announce that we will be partnering with Prosper Africa throughout the year to engage businesses and investors in cities across the United States. Our next stops include San...

26 April 2023

Kenya-USA: Joint Statement on the third US-Kenya bilateral strategic dialogue [incl. VIDEO]

The text of the following statement was released by the Governments of the United States of America and the Kenya on the occasion of U.S.-Kenya Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Washington, D.C. on April 24, 2023. Begin Text: The Governments of the United States of America and the Republic of Kenya held the third iteration of the U.S.-Kenya Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Washington, D.C. on April 24, 2023.  The U.S.-Kenya Strategic...

24 April 2023

Kenya, US advance talks on trade and investment partnership

Kenya and the United States of America have successfully completed the second round of negotiations on Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP), an agreement that aims to strengthen the two countries’ bilateral and investment relations. Ministry of Investment, Trade, and Industry Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria said a lot of progress has been made in the negotiations, an indication that both states are committed to enhancing...

22 April 2023

US, Kenya teams open trade talks amid smallholder farmers’ protest

The administration of Kenya’s President William Ruto has begun the negotiation round of the proposed bilateral deal with the United States, which will replace the more-than-two-decade-old African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) amid protestations from smallholder farmers. The four-day talks, which kicked off in Nairobi on Monday, follow the round of conceptual discussions held in Washington between February 6 and 10. President Ruto’s...

17 April 2023

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