Nairobi — THE UNITED States has begun implementing a $100 million anti-terrorism initiative in five countries in East Africa involving tighter border controls and intensified efforts to lessen anti-American sentiments among Muslims in the region.
Kenya will receive the largest portion of the assistance, which will also be shared by Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Djibouti, said a State Department official.
The division of the aid reflects "Kenya's importance in the region and the fact that it has already suffered two terrorist attacks," added the official, who spoke to The EastAfrican on condition that he remains anonymous. He declined to specify the dollar value of the assistance being provided to the respective countries.
Funding for the initiative is to come from appropriations previously approved by the US Congress for use in other parts of the world, the official said.
American lawmakers thus do not need to take any new action in order for the $100 million to be made available to the five East African countries.
The State Department-administered undertaking is to continue for the next 15 months, with most activities scheduled to occur next year.
President George W. Bush outlined the anti-terrorism aid package in a speech in late June at a US-Africa business conference in Washington. In attendance at the event was Kenya's Internal Security Minister Chris Murangaru, who had carried a letter to Bush from President Mwai Kibaki asking the US to provide Kenya with $400 million worth of "emergency aid."
President Kibaki argued that the US should help offset the economic losses Kenya suffered as a result of US warnings last spring of impending terrorist attacks. Politely rejecting Kibaki's request, American officials responded that they had an obligation to act on sound intelligence.
The damage to Kenya's economy would have proved far worse had terrorists succeeded in launching another attack on Western targets in Kenya, US officials added.
Bush's subsequent announcement of the $100 million initiative was hailed by the Kibaki team as a helpful US response to Kenya's security needs.
The new programme has a military element that will involve US training of police units and Customs personnel in the five East African countries, the State Department official said. The aim is to "establish better control over people and goods moving across land and maritime borders in the region.
Efforts to tighten border security will be focused on formalised crossing points between the various countries, the official said.
"We're not going to build any fences along the borders," he added. "Clearly, we're not going to be able to control every inch of the borders in the region."
At the same time, the official expressed confidence that the initiative would succeed in "preventing many of the bad guys from moving from place to place."
The programme will also have a "public diplomacy" component. This will involve efforts to "better explain our policies to the people of the region," the official said. Such outreach will take the form of radio talks and publication of materials in local languages.
Muslim communities in East Africa are expected to comprise "a significant audience" for these attempts at persuasion, the official said.