Eric W. Kneedler, the Chargé d'Affaires at the American Embassy in Nairobi, spoke to Aggrey Mutambo on the country's relations with and plans for Kenya.
With the change of administration, how important is Kenya to the new government's foreign policy?
The US is committed to our relationship with Kenya. All the Biden Administration's foreign policy priorities -- trade and investment, peace and security, democratic institutions and human rights, and global health and climate change -- require a strong partnership with Kenya. Enduring partnerships in the private sector, education, and people-to-people exchanges also demonstrate the importance of the US-Kenya relationship. Our two countries also work closely together on the global stage at the UN Security Council.
The bilateral trade negotiations were among the pending issues of the previous administration. What is the current stand?
The Biden-Harris Administration is going to review the status of the negotiations and the text of the US-Kenya FTA. We look forward to continuing to talk, working closely with the United States Trade Representative, which leads on trade policy and negotiation.
The US recently deployed a naval ship, the USS Hershel "Woody" Williams, in the Indian Ocean waters. How does the US intend to pursue maritime security for the region?
The US is committed to peace, prosperity, and security. These values, shared by the US and Kenya, include free, fair, and reciprocal trade, peaceful resolution of disputes, respect for sovereignty, and adherence to international law.
There were rumours last year of the US seeking permission to launch drones on targets inside Kenya. Could you elaborate on that policy specifically, and counterterrorism co-operation general?
We are committed to combatting al-Shabaab and keeping Kenya safe from terrorist attacks. The US and Kenya routinely share intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information to keep Kenyans and Americans safe. Our security partnership has provided Ksh100 million ($9.09 million) in annual education and training support to the Kenya Defence Forces plus an additional Ksh35 billion ($318.2 million) in counterterrorism support over the past five years alone. The US trained Kenyan law enforcement officers in a 10-week Counterterrorism Investigations Course and contributes Ksh1 billion shillings ($90.9 million) annually to support counter-terrorism efforts in building law enforcement capacity in Kenya through the Anti-Terrorist Assistance programme. The US provided high quality armoured personnel carriers to enhance the safety of KDF personnel and we have trained and equipped Kenya Border Patrol units with tactical gear, medical gear, weapons, unmanned aerial systems, and a mobile armoury.
All US Africa Command (Africom) activities are carefully co-ordinated with host nation governments, as well as other key partners. The US, both as part of our partnership with Kenya and to keep our forces safe, constantly evaluates and where necessary utilises the capabilities necessary to achieve those objectives.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said the US will deal with China by strengthening networks with old allies. Will the US play any role in infrastructure building in Kenya, the way the Chinese have?
The US already plays a role in infrastructure building in Kenya. US firms are improving and expanding Kenya's digital capacity, and building manufacturing and power infrastructure. American universities are also partnering with Kenyan academic institutions to build research capacity. And perhaps most importantly, as the largest international donor with over Ksh60 billion ($545.5 million) in annual assistance, the US has supported Kenya's health system infrastructure for almost 60 years through medicines, equipment, supplies, and research.
American-supported infrastructure and personnel conduct over half of all Covid-19 tests in Kenya today. The American model of doing business promotes sustainable growth that bolsters institutions, strengthens the rule of law, and builds the capacity. And because US companies are subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practises Act, they bring transparency and ethical standards to the deal making process.
What other areas of co-operation can we expect to see with the US?
President Joe Biden has spoken of "diplomacy rooted in America's most cherished democratic values: Defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity."
Similarly, Secretary Blinken spoke of "diplomacy to check the rise of authoritarianism, to prevent the spread of dangerous weapons, to shore up democracy, to defend human rights, all of which make the world more stable and free."
We continue to partner closely with the government, civil society and the private sector to strengthen devolution, improve accountability, reduce corruption, and support credible and peaceful elections. We recently announced a new programme through USAid that will strengthen our support for Kenya-led efforts to advance governance and accountability reforms.
Eric W. Kneedler became Chargé d'Affaires ad interim, at the US Embassy in Nairobi on January 20, 2021.
A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, he previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Nairobi from April of 2019 until January of 2021.
He began his assignment in Nairobi in 2017 as the Counselor for Political Affairs and also served as the Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Manila and the Deputy Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Bangkok.