Friday, October 18, 2013
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, as the September 2013 attack on an upscale Nairobi shopping mall underscores, terrorist threats against international and domestic targets in Kenya remain a serious concern.
Kenya’s military plays a key role in regional operations against Al Shabaab in Somalia. The Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali insurgent group has claimed responsibility for the Westgate Mall attack ostensibly in response to Kenya’s military offensive against the group across the Somali border. The incident is the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing and the group’s first successful large-scale operation in the Kenyan capital.
Kenya ranks among the top U.S. foreign aid recipients in the world, receiving significant development, humanitarian, and security assistance in recent years. The country, which is a top recipient of police and military counterterrorism assistance on the continent, hosts the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in Africa. Nairobi is home to one of four major United Nations offices worldwide.
The election in March 2013 of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto complicates the historically strong relationship between Kenya and the United States. Kenyatta, whose victory against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga was deemed credible by most observers, and Ruto face charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in crimes against humanity during violence that followed Kenya’s last elections in December 2007.
Ruto’s ICC trial commenced in September 2013; Kenyatta’s begins in November. Their supporters have portrayed the cases as part of an international conspiracy against Kenya, and as emblematic of racial bias on the part of a court that has, to date, exclusively targeted Africans for prosecution. This was a campaign message during the 2013 elections, in which voting largely followed ethnic lines. The September vote by Kenya’s parliament to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the ICC does not affect the current trials and is, for now, largely symbolic.
Kenya’s key aid donors and senior Obama Administration officials have been supportive of the ICC process for the country, viewing impunity for state corruption and political violence as a major challenge that continues to threaten Kenya’s long-term stability. 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 issue for Congress in the coming months, as it weighs various governance, human rights, and security priorities in the country.
The 2007-2008 post-election violence tarnished Kenya’s generally peaceful reputation and had a significant impact on its economy, which is East Africa’s largest and most diverse. More recent developments, including the September 2013 terrorist attack and a fire in August that did extensive damage to Nairobi’s airport, the region’s busiest, may again slow economic growth.
The March elections were the first held under a new constitution, under which major political reforms are proscribed. The Kenyatta government faces high expectations by the electorate to improve the economy and deliver on pledged political and social reforms.
Date of Report: September 23, 2013
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R42967
R42967 .pdf to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART
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