East Africa: Joe Biden Stresses Peace in the Horn During Meeting With Uhuru Kenyatta

United States president Joe Biden meets Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House on October 14, 2021.
14 October 2021

US President Joe Biden on Thursday asked Kenya to play a central role in securing the Horn region, even as he pledged to donate a further 17 million doses of J&J Covid-19 jabs to the African Union.

At a meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House, Biden said Kenya, a traditional ally of Washington was going to play a significant role, especially now that the region is facing various crises.

"Our nations share a deep commitment of fairness to respect and equity and I am committed to elevating further our ties with Kenya and the nations across Africa as a whole, but Kenya is key," Biden said.

Biden had listed financial transparency, peace and security in the Horn of Africa as well as climate change as crucial areas both countries will cooperate on.

He also listed economic growth, but did not specify on trade issues that had stalled between Kenya and the US, as part of areas the two leaders would discuss "based on principles of mutual respect and equality."

A trade agreement under negotiation during Donald Trump's years has since stalled.

President Uhuru Kenyatta became the first African head to meet with Biden since he took over in January.

President Kenyatta, on his fourth visit to the White House under three different American Presidents, said he welcomes US support to end crises in the region, as well as develop trade.

US return to Paris Agreement

"During this very difficult time, the United States has done its best to step up, by not only helping Kenya but the African continent in general in terms of vaccine access. As a continent, we are lagging way behind the rest of the world in terms of being able to vaccinate our people," President Kenyatta said, referring to vaccine shortage in Africa where just about 5 percent of the population is vaccinated.

"Any additional support as the President has just mentioned is greatly welcomed and we look forward to that kind of partnership."

Other bigger problems, however, such as climate change, and the conflicts in the region were top on the agenda.

President Kenyatta said he welcomes US return to the Paris Agreement, indicating it will help the US to focus more on its obligation to reduce dangerous emissions.

"We are glad to see the United States has now rejoined (the Paris Agreement [on Climate Change) and we look forward to working together on that particular agenda which as you know our continent is the least in terms of emitting but pays the highest price."

Ahead of the meeting, President Kenyatta, who is the current President of the UN Security Council, had said climate change is now related or causing most of the conflicts on the continent. He asked leaders to prioritise further targeted proposals on climate change when dealing with conflicts.

In eyes of the US, Kenya could also be handy in dealing with the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region, where the UN now says at least 900,000 people are living in "famine-like" conditions after humanitarian corridors were blocked.

The US had earlier threatened sanctions on those hindering aid delivery or refusing dialogue, but Kenya cautioned against sanctions, indicating Ethiopians needed encouragement, not threats.

The US has also pressured Ethiopia to start dialogue with the Tigray People's Liberation Front, a one-time ruling party now proscribed in Ethiopia.

Fight against corruption

On Wednesday Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a further $26 million worth of humanitarian aid to Tigray, but called on Ethiopia to allow independent investigators into atrocities committed by both sides.

This meeting had been, however, preceded with a call by a US Senator for Biden to prioritise the fight against corruption, political violence and rising debt, indicating this was more of bilateral issues on Kenya's governance.

Idaho's Republican Senator Jim Risch, a ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee said on Wednesday the meeting between the two should focus on endemic problems Kenya is facing, as well as the security concerns in neighbouring Ethiopia.

The Senate said that Kenya, being a strategic partner in East Africa should be supported to enhance regional security, especially in the fight against terrorism.

"I remain concerned, however, about deep government corruption, ongoing incidents of intercommunal violence in several parts of the country, and increasing debt to China," he said.

"Kenya is also preparing for a contentious election with a potentially violent ethnic dimension in 2022."

The meeting came as Kenya presides over the UN Security Council for the month of October. But it also comes as Kenya faces violence in Laikipia which police say is fueled by bandits.

Kenya is also preparing for General Election next year with uncertainties surrounding the security situation after the vote. The previous two General Election were followed by sporadic incidents of violence.

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