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Kenya: Why the Next U.S. President Should Focus On Kenya After Barack Obama’s Visit-Bremmer

Ian Bremmer, Ph.D

By Ian Bremmer

(All Africa) – US President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa should surpass the confines of a historic homecoming and open the next leader up to better relations with Kenya.

This, in part, is because Kenya, not traditional African powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa, is best positioned to provide the continent with much-needed leadership in the future.

Kenya is a leader in East Africa and a critical ally in the war on terrorism.

Its ability to monitor threats and gather intelligence in innovative ways, primarily on Somalia-based terror group al Shabaab, will protect US security operations in the region.

Kenya also plays an increasingly important peacekeeping role and helps build cooperation and coordination within the East African Community.

In fact, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration has focused on fostering stronger relationships not just with Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, but also across the continent.

Though Ethiopia often leads in regional peace negotiations, Uhuru provides critical support in helping manage current political crises in Burundi and South Sudan.

Kenya can also play this leadership role because it has built one of Africa’s most stable democracies.

The country’s new constitution, which creates a decentralised political system to limit presidential powers and empower local governments, is a key component.

Furthermore, its treasury and central bank offer models for other African states to emulate.

Kenya’s story is all the more important because the country emerged from sectarian political violence following the disputed 2007 presidential election; it offers a solid blueprint for African nations to follow.

Kenya is also East Africa’s economic engine.

With relatively good infrastructure (despite Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams), ongoing investment in the power sector, and a consumer market of 43 million people, Kenya attracts a sizable share of sub-Saharan Africa’s foreign direct investment.

In 2014, for example, Kenya was the second largest destination in sub-Saharan Africa for FDI, behind South Africa.

This is thanks, in no small part, to its emergence as the continent’s tech hub, unofficially referred to as “Silicon Savannah”.

The port of Mombasa serves as the region’s lifeline, and Kenya’s progress toward the commercial development of its oil and gas is complemented by its role as an oil transport hub.

During his visit, Obama pushed for greater US investment in Kenya; the next president would be wise to do the same.

Lower oil prices will slow development in Nigeria and dissatisfaction with government and social unrest in South Africa will continue to weigh on its growth.

This is why Kenya’s stable political system and dynamic economy will only become more important for Africa and the rest of the world.

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