Kenya–United States relations

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Kenya – United States relations
Map indicating locations of Kenya and USA


United States
Diplomatic Mission
Kenyan Embassy, Washington, D.C.United States Embassy, Nairobi

Kenya–United States relations are bilateral relations between Kenya and the United States. Kenya and the United States have long been close allies and have enjoyed cordial relations since Kenya's independence. Relations became even closer after Kenya's democratic transition of 2002 and subsequent improvements in human rights.

This was preceded by sometimes frosty interludes during President Moi's regime when the two countries often clashed over bad governance issues, resulting in aid suspension and many diplomatic rows. Following the election of the new government of Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013, relations somewhat took a dip when the new president forged a new foreign policy looking east away from traditional western allies. Kenya–United States relations have been cemented through cooperation against Islamist terrorism and a visit by President Obama to Kenya, which is the homeland of his father.

Kenya's athletic mastery of some auspicious American events such as the Boston Marathon and New York Marathon have increased ordinary Americans' consciousness of Kenya paving the way for a warm mutual regard between the two peoples. An attack on Kenya by Al-Qaeda in 1998 as well as subsequent more attacks by Al-Shabaab, has drawn the two countries politically closer due to the shared fate the U.S. has had of similar targeting in the horrific September 11 attacks by Al-Qaeda in Lower Manhattan and The Pentagon.

Kenya is one of the most pro-American nations in Africa and the world, seemingly more so than the U.S. itself. According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, 87% of Kenyans view the U.S. favorably in 2007, decreasing slightly down to 83% in 2011 and 81% viewing the U.S. favorably in 2013.[1] and according to the 2012 U.S. Global Leadership Report, 68% of Kenyans approve of U.S. leadership, with 14% disapproving and 18% uncertain.[2] In a 2013 BBC World Service poll, 69% of Kenyans view U.S. influence positively, with only 11% viewing U.S. influence negatively.[3]



After Kenya's independence on December 12, 1963, the United States immediately recognized the new nation[4]. However, it was not until March 2nd, 1964 that diplomatic relations were established with William Atwood establishing the U.S. Embassy at Nairobi[4]. The United States also provided the fledging nation with $21 million in funds and technical aid, with Kenya seeking more loans from the United States[5].

The United States soon found itself invested in Kenyan politics due to the power struggle between Tom Mboya and Jaramogi Oginga Oginga[6]. The United States had been impressed by Mboya since the 1950s, and sought to empower him in the new administration instead of the more leftist Oginga[6]. The United States was successful, and Mboya began wooing Kenya's prime minister Jomo Kenyatta into becoming more favorable with the United States and the CIA[6].

Cold War[edit]

After Odinga's fall from power, Kenya found itself squarely in the Western bloc during the Cold War period[7]. The fact that Soviet ideals never gained traction in post-independence Kenya meant that there was little to no jockeying between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in this region[7]. This meant there was little need for Kenya and United States relations, since the United States took Kenyan support for granted[7].

However, the 1980s saw Kenya become more involved in Cold War politics. After Jomo Kenyatta's death, the new president of Kenya Daniel arap Moi sought to further strengthen relations with the United States[7] Moi joined the United States' Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, allowing for the construction of United States military installations in Kenya[7]. The most notable development of this military construction was allowing United States naval access to Mombasa, which resulted in the United States paying Kenya $26 million [8].

Democratization Era[edit]

Good relations, however, fell into jeopardy with the deteriorating civil rights picture in Kenya. In 1987, the chairman of the Congress subcommittee on Africa, Michigan congressman Howard Wolpe, accused Daniel arap Moi of bankrolling criminals and committing human rights abuses[9]. The issue was then placed on the agenda for Ronald Reagan's talks with Moi, but nothing came of it at this time[10]. In 1991, however, the United States joined with a coalition of other nations who gave financial assistance to Kenya to pressure for reforms[11]. In a 1991 meeting in Paris, Kenya's aid donors insisted on ending corruption and human rights abuses, threatening to pull their aid[11]. These concerns caused the United States to suspend its aid in 1992[12]. Even when United States pressure forced multiparty elections in 1992, relations were tense all throughout the 1990s due to international discontent with the tactics of the Moi regime[13][14].

War on Terror[edit]

On August 7th, 1998, al Qaeda terrorists detonated a car bomb outside the United States embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, leaving 200 dead and thousands wounded[15]. The immediate aftermath strained relations between the United States and Kenya, as Kenyans felt that the United States only cared about the Americans who lost their lives, not the Kenyans[16]. The situation was worsened when the American ambassador, Prudence Bushnell, implied that Kenyans were attempting to loot the embassy[16].

However, since that event, the Kenyan and U.S. governments have intensified cooperation to address all forms of insecurity in Kenya, including terrorism. The United States provides equipment and training to Kenyan security forces, both civilian and military. In its dialog with the Kenyan Government, the United States urges effective action against corruption and insecurity as the two greatest impediments to Kenya achieving sustained, rapid economic growth.[17]

Families and victims of the attack have severally appealed to the Kenyan government to petition the U.S. government to compensate them. A Kenyan journalist who resides in the U.S. has on several occasions castigated the U.S. government for its nonchalant approach to the issue. In an article titled "The Big Bloody Burden of The Big Brother" published by the Daily Nation, one of the two mainstream Kenyan Newspapers, the writer, Ben Mutua Jonathan Muriithi wondered why "the Obama administration and others before it had turned a blind eye yet it was clear that Kenya had suffered as a Collateral damage".

Modern Era[edit]

U.S. assistance to Kenya grew "exponentially" during the administration of President Barack Obama, as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) put it in a 2012 contracting document reported by the independent, investigative blog U.S. Trade & Aid Monitor. The number of USAID projects had grown significantly enough for the agency to justify hiring additional contractors to help it manage its Kenyan program portfolio. A Statement of Work for the support initiative acknowledged that "the level of U.S.-financed Kenyan operations has outpaced Washington's ability to adequately manage it."[18]

Recent issues[edit]

Early in 2013, the Obama Administration via the U.S. Agency for International Development issued a Request for Proposals seeking contractor assistance in encouraging peace between warring tribes and cattle-raiders in and around Kenya.

The PEACE III initiative proposes, among other approaches, to arrange "reflective workshops" among groups in conflict primarily along Kenyan border regions, where such groups would share "trauma stories" as a means of reconsidering who is a "victim" and who is a "perpetrator."

According to U.S. Trade & Aid Monitor, the administration "acknowledges that chronic cattle rustling and other cultural practices – such as killing rivals “to prove their manhood or impress young women” – serve as impediments to progress."


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Nairobi in 2009 and 2012[19] and Secretary of State John Kerry also visited in 2015.[20]

Vice President Joe Biden visited Nairobi in 2010.[21]

President Barack Obama, whose father is a Kenyan native, became the first U.S. President to visit Kenya when he visited Nairobi in 2015[22] where he co-hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015 with President Uhuru Kenyatta. Uhuru Kenyatta has visited the U.S. on several occasions[23] whilst president. Former presidents Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki also visited the U.S. on several occasions.[24]


See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of State website (U.S. Bilateral Relations Fact Sheets).[7]

  1. ^ Opinion of the United States
  2. ^ U.S. Global Leadership Project Report - 2012 Gallup
  3. ^ Country Ratings - 2013 BBC Poll Archived 26 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b "Kenya - Countries - Office of the Historian". Retrieved 2018-10-04.
  5. ^ "Joyful Kenya Gets Independence From Britain". Retrieved 2018-10-04.
  6. ^ a b c Munene, G. Macharia (1992). "Reviewed Work(s): United States of America's Foreign Policy Toward Kenya, 1952 – 1969 by P. Godfrey" (PDF). Transafrican Journal of History. 21: 187–192 – via JSTOR. line feed character in |title= at position 86 (help)
  7. ^ a b c d e Kapoya, Vincent B. (Spring 1985). "The Cold War and Regional Politics in East Africa". Conflict Quarterly: 18–32.
  8. ^ Mangi, Lutfullah (1987). "US MILITARY BASES IN AFRICA". Pakistan Horizon. 40: 95–102 – via JSTOR.
  9. ^ "KENYA LAMBASTES WOLPE FOR REMARKS". Washington Post. 1987-01-26. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  10. ^ Widner, Jennifer A. (1992). The Rise of a Party-State in Kenya: From "Harambee!" to "Nyayo!". University of California Press. pp. 202–203.
  11. ^ a b Greenhouse, Steven. "AID DONORS INSIST ON KENYA REFORMS". Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  12. ^ Johnson, Harold J. (January 1993). "AID TO KENYA: Accountability for Economic and Military Assistance Can Be Improved" (PDF). United States General Accounting Officer.
  13. ^ Lorch, Donatella. "Kenya, Calling for Aid, Fights Falling Economy". Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  14. ^ Campbell, John R. (Summer 2008). "International Development and Bilateral Aid to Kenya in the 1990s" (PDF). Journal of Anthropological Research. 64: 249–267 – via JSTOR.
  15. ^ Library, CNN. "1998 US Embassies in Africa Bombings Fast Facts". CNN. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  16. ^ a b "After the bomb". The Economist. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  17. ^ "United States Aid to Kenya: Regional Security and Counterterrorism before and after 9/11". Archived from the original on 9 March 2011.
  18. ^ "Obama's Spending Grows 'Exponentially' in Kenya". Archived from the original on 25 September 2012.
  19. ^ [1]. Group pushes US focus on Kenya reforms. Retrieved on 31 July 2015.
  20. ^ [2]. Secretary of State John Kerry Remarks in Nairobi, Kenya. Retrieved on 31 July 2015.
  21. ^ [3]. Biden lands in Nairobi. Retrieved on 31 July 2015.
  22. ^ [4]. Nairobi returns to normal after Barack Obama's visit. Retrieved on 31 July 2015.
  23. ^ [5]. Seeing off President Uhuru Kenyatta who will be attending the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington. Retrieved on 31 July 2015.
  24. ^ [6]. President Bush Welcomes President Kibaki of Kenya to White House . Retrieved on 31 July 2015.

External links[edit]

Media related to Kenya – United States relations at Wikimedia Commons