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Kenya: Biden’s visit promotes US agenda

Published date:
Thursday, 10 June 2010

US Vice-President Joseph Biden’s visit to Kenya and other African states this week, coming only 10 months after the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traversed Sub-Saharan Africa, appears to demonstrate that President Barack Obama’s government accords high priority to Kenya and the rest of Africa.

Whether this special attention is based on the need to help Africans address their numerous problems or on the desire to use Africa as an instrument in the promotion of American national interests, is hard to tell.

But, how are Africans making use of this increased political goodwill?

I suppose the use Africans make of these high level visits depends on their goals, which may include good governance, increased trade and regional security.

Those interested in political reform and the promotion of human rights have seized these opportunities to draw attention to some African states’ failures to strengthen democratic institutions, eliminate corruption, honour human rights and respect the rule of law.

Such “good governance” enthusiasts were heartened to hear Vice-President Biden urge Kenyans to take political reforms, including the August 4 referendum on the draft constitution, seriously.

By linking future American investments and development assistance to political reform, the American Vice-President undermined the bases of those who would like to choose between economic and political development.

High level

However, good governance may not be the top item on the agenda of everyone as some Africans would like to use the high level attention from Washington to urge the US government and other developed countries to open wider their markets for African goods.

The recent global financial crises reduced considerably the consumption capacities of the North American and Western European populations, but the crisis also propelled developed countries towards radical reforms.

Therefore, it would help African states in the long-run if they used these visits to convince American leaders that it was in their interests to open up their markets to more African goods.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which was signed into law in May 2000 during the Bill Clinton administration, was designed to offer tangible incentives for African states that opened their economies and helped to build free markets.

However, Agoa needs to be reformulated to take account of new international developments, especially following the far-reaching effects of the global financial crises.

Mr Biden’s visit, like that of Hillary Clinton in August last year, has raised questions about what role the Obama administration will play in contributing to regional security and the stability of the African continent.

As President Kibaki said during Mr Biden’s tour, the continuing instability in Somalia and the consequent piracy in the Indian Ocean are major security problems for Kenya.

However, Mr Biden’s public remarks on Somalia, including the promise to support Kenya in securing its borders in the face of external threats, gave the impression that President Obama has no plans to bring stability to Somalia.

Based on Mr Biden’s remarks, I have concluded that his visit was designed to promote Washington’s agenda rather than address Africa’s problems.

Makinda is professor of Security, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies, Murdoch University, Australia.

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