Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia. What’s on his agenda

As US President Barack Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia the usual topics are on the table: trade and investment, security and counter-terrorism, and democracy and human rights. From your point of view, what should be Obama’s focus, what countries like Kenya or Ethiopia need from the US? Read few comments.

David Anderson, Director of Graduate Studies in History, Professor of African History, University of Warwick

The Kenyans are expecting Obama to deliver some benefits, for sure, but they may be disappointed by the tone of what comes forward. US engagement with Africa is increasingly dictated by the security agenda, led by the US Department of Defense. This will be top of the agenda, and the Kenyans will face criticism for their handling of the al Shabaab threat.  The US has already hugely increased support for Kenya’s security sector – American aid now matching the entire defence budget – so Obama is unlikely to promise more, but he will give a commitment of continued support. The Kenyans can expect to be urged to adopt better social policies in relation to the north and coastal regions, and to seek ways to incorporate the Muslim population.

The US will also advise the Kenyans to guard against the securitization of the state – a trend that has been very evident recently and that hampers democracy and threatens human rights. Obama will want Kenyatta to give assurances about Kenya’s democracy and accountability, and will want to know that judicial and policing reforms are moving ahead. These are tricky question for the Kenyans, as some of these reforms have stalled and show no signs of being realized.

So, the Kenyans may end up being disappointed by what the president offers them: words of encouragement and guidance, rather than tangible benefits, but they should at last be assured that the US is an ally that will not easily desert them.

In Ethiopia, the president’s message will be very different in tone. Ethiopia is an autocracy, despite its elections. The president may urge them to open up greater democratic space, but he will know that there is little leverage in such talk. The visit to Addis should be seen more in terms of a ‘solidarity’ visit, rather than the beginning of any new development in the relationship. Ethiopia is what it is, and not even a presidential visit will make it anything else. Security will dominate, but the future of Somalia will also be on the agenda.  This will be discussed with the Kenyans, too: how do these two neighbouring states see the future of a peaceful Somalia? As one reunited state? As a federation?  Or as a group of rival mini-states? These questions will be broached in both capitals, but in Addis the focus may be more specifically on the future of Somaliland. There will no big announcements on this, but rather an effort to clarify where each party stands and to chart a roadmap ahead.

Daniel BranchAssociate Professor, African History, History Department, University of Warwick

Neither the Kenyan or the Ethiopian government will worry much about anything Obama has to say about democracy and human rights. Both governments will correctly assume that the U.S. sees both as vital strategic partners in campaign against Al Shabaab in Somalia and that this campaign is far more important to Washington than democracy or human rights. Further foreign investment and trade opportunities will be welcome of course, but continued American support for the military campaigns in Somalia and for domestic counter-terrorism measures are the priorities for the governments in Addis and Nairobi.

Richard Downie, Deputy Director and Fellow, Africa Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

The United States has a complex set of interests to promote in both Kenya and Ethiopia but I hope that President Obama uses his trip to tell Americans back home that Africa deserves a closer look.  The impression that many Americans have of Africa is that it is a continent of disease, poverty, and destruction.  This is a very narrow view that ignores the positive progress many countries have made in recent years, particularly in terms of economic growth.  I hope President Obama will convey the “good news” story of Africa on his trip.

At the same time, he cannot gloss over the difficulties and I expect there to be a lot of discussion in Kenya and Ethiopia about shared security threats and concerns over human rights.  Both the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments will be hoping they can receive more U.S. support for the former and avoid getting lectured on the latter.

Scott Morgan, President Red Eagle Enterprises

Right now with the President in Kenya there are several things I think he should address. Obviously with the address at the Business Summit in Nairobi getting the main focus it has become clear that regional security is an issue that needs to be addressed. The situation in Somalia links both Kenya and Ethiopia in the effort to promote stability. One thing that I would like to see addressed is the crisis in Burundi. Burundi is dependent on Kenya for Trade and other economic concerns.

I think that the Hacking Team revelations regarding Ethiopia will need to be addressed. Ethiopia needs to be more open as a society and that could encourage US Investments. The remarks by the Kenyan Minister requesting an apology from CNN may hinder some contacts vis a vis US and Kenya. But when it comes to security maybe some professional training would benefit the Kenyans.

David ShinnAdjunct Professor of International Affairs, The George Washington University, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and to Burkina Faso

n addition to the bilateral issues, Obama will be focused on the African Union in Ethiopia and the Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya. What Kenya and Ethiopia want from the US and what the US wants to offer are not always the same. There is agreement on support for regional peacekeeping, conflict resolution, more private investment, and economic development. There is also agreement on counterterrorism, especially US support for Kenya and Ethiopia, intelligence sharing, and the physical removal of al-Shabaab leaders. Obama will need to address human rights and democratization issues in both countries. The leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia will not want to be lectured but is is part of the normal tension in the relationship. Everything considered, there will be more issues of agreement than disagreement. Kenya, of course, is the homeland of Obama’s father. This adds a special dimension to his trip to Kenya. It will also be the first trip ever to Ethiopia by a sitting US president.

 

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