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Friday, March 8, 2013

Kenya: Current Issues and U.S. Policy

Lauren Ploch Blanchard
Specialist in African Affairs

• The U.S. government views Kenya as a strategic partner and anchor state in East Africa, and as critical to counterterrorism efforts in the region. Kenya has repeatedly been a target of terrorist attacks, and the concentration of potential international and domestic targets in Kenya remains a serious concern. Its military plays a key role in regional operations against Al Shabaab in Somalia.

• Kenya ranks among the top U.S. foreign aid recipients in the world, receiving nearly $1 billion annually in development, humanitarian, and security assistance in recent years. The country hosts the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in Africa.

• There is considerable uncertainty surrounding Kenya’s upcoming elections on March 4. President Mwai Kibaki is retiring after serving two terms, and a close race and crowded field of candidates appears likely to force a presidential runoff in April. The international community is particularly concerned with the potential for a repeat of the widespread violence, largely along ethnic lines, that followed Kenya’s last elections in December 2007. That crisis tarnished Kenya’s generally peaceful reputation and had a significant impact on its economy, which is East Africa’s largest and most diverse.

• The March elections are the first to be held under a new constitution, and are its most complex yet, with voters casting six different ballots for presidential, parliamentary, and local candidates. Domestic and foreign observers have expressed concerns with technical challenges such as long queues and insufficient voter education; localized political violence; and allegations of vote buying, voter intimidation, and threats against the judges responsible for resolving electoral disputes. Rumors of bias and partisan activities by some top government officials persist, and questions regarding police preparedness remain. Polls suggest voting may largely follow ethnic lines, as in previous elections.

• The presidential frontrunners appear to be Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, stand indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity committed during the 2007-2008 post-election violence. Their trials are scheduled to begin in early April at the Hague. Their supporters have portrayed the cases as driven by Odinga and purported Western allies, and their continued compliance with the court, should they win the election, is in question.

• Kenya’s key aid donors and senior Obama Administration officials have been supportive of the ICC process for the country, and several foreign governments have indicated that diplomatic interaction with Kenya’s top leadership may be limited in the event of a Kenyatta/Ruto win. Additional foreign government restrictions on trade and aid may apply, depending on the Kenyan government’s compliance with the court. Implications for U.S. relations, assistance, and future cooperation remain unclear, given that the United States is not a state party to the ICC. This may be a key question for Congress in the coming months, as it weighs various governance, human rights, and security priorities in the country.

• Impunity for state corruption and political violence has been a major challenge that continues to threaten Kenya’s long-term stability. Reforms required under the new constitution, if fully implemented, could set the country on a new course.

Date of Report: February 26, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R42967
Price: $29.95

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