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Blinken arrives in Kenya to strengthen ties, address crises in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, and spread Biden’s ‘America is back, diplomacy is back’ mantra

Blinken, who will be in Kenya between November 17 and November 18, will meet with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo to discuss the partnership between the governments of the United States and Kenya.  

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has arrived in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to strengthen ties with the East African nation, address regional challenges, including the crises in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, and reinforce President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s mantra that “America is back” and “diplomacy is back.”

Blinken, who will be in Kenya between November 17 and November 18, will meet with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo to discuss the partnership between the governments of the United States and Kenya.  

On Wednesday, he met with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on the first leg of his first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa since he assumed duties earlier this year. He is the highest ranking official from the Biden administration to travel to the continent since Mr. Biden was inaugurated on January 21.

“This is an important time, not just for Kenya but around the world,” Blinken said at a Roundtable with Civil Society at the Sankara Hotel in Nairobi. “We’ve seen over the last decade or so what some would call the democratic recession – democracies are falling back.”

He said citizens’ trust in democracy is decreasing while independent institutions have been challenged and undermined. In addition, journalists, human rights activists have been threatened and attacked. 

“Even vibrant democracies like Kenya are experiencing these pressures, especially around election time,” Blinken said. 

He added, “The reason I wanted to get together and start the day and hear from all of you is we’re going to hear more about your experiences with these challenges and how you’re impacted, and how you’re thinking about – how you’re confronting them, and what’s most effective in strengthening our democracies, building resilience, and resisting some of the efforts to undermine.  And for me, it’s important, as I said, to be listening to you because in country after country that is experiencing these challenges, people are finding different ways to strengthen their whole democracy.  And no one has all the answers, but somewhere is somebody who does have the answer.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

The United States and Kenya partner on multiple global priorities, including ending the COVID pandemic and investing in health, addressing the climate crisis, building a more inclusive global economy, and strengthening democracy and respect for human rights. 

“Just finished an engaging conversation with Kenyan civil society leaders. We discussed ways we can work together to address shared challenges, as democracy requires active citizen participation,” Mr. Blinken tweeted shortly after he arrived in Nairobi.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk from the Oval Office of the White House Friday, March 12, 2021, to the Rose Garden to deliver remarks on the American Rescue Plan. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) 
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris walk from the Oval Office of the White House Friday, March 12, 2021, to the Rose Garden to deliver remarks on the American Rescue Plan. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

“Vipi WaKenya! Glad to be in Kenya, a nation with which we have a deep and long-standing friendship. Looking forward to meeting with government officials and civil society to discuss our shared interests and affirm our strategic partnership,” he said in a previous tweet.

The State Department says Mr. Blinken is visiting Kenya to strengthen partnership with the East African nation and address regional challenges such as ending the violence in Ethiopia, reviving a transition to a civilian government in Sudan and fighting terrorism in Somalia.

As a member of the United Nations Security Council and a key player in East Africa, Kenya can help the United States achieve peace and stability in the region.

The United States and Kenya established diplomatic relations in 1964 and their bilateral engagement has expanded greatly since Kenya returned to multiparty democracy in 1992. 

The United States and Kenya established diplomatic relations in 1964. Our bilateral engagement has expanded greatly since Kenya returned to multiparty democracy in 1992. 

Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

In 2019, both countries held their first Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) in Washington, DC. 

“The BSD is built on five pillars that underscore the breadth of our mutual interests across the areas of: economic prosperity, defense, democracy and civilian security, multilateral and regional issues, and public health,” the State Department said on Tuesday, adding that the United States provided over $560 million in bilateral assistance to Kenya in FY 2020.

“This assistance supported integrated programming across our pillars of partnership.  In addition, the United States also provided nearly $98 million in humanitarian assistance in FY 2021,” the U.S. government added.

The U.S. government is the largest contributor to Kenya’s health sector with an annual investment of approximately $450 million over the last three years, benefitting an estimated 25 million Kenyans.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

“As a result of our investments and the complementary and collaborative efforts of the government of Kenya, 1.2 million Kenyans are currently receiving life-saving HIV treatment, the mortality rate of children under age five has decreased by about 56 percent since 2000, and the average Kenyan’s life expectancy has increased by more than 15 years over the same period,” said the U.S. State Department.

The United States and Kenya have collaborated closely to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce secondary economic impacts, and restrict non-essential travel across borders, while also addressing the economic challenges of reduced mobility.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

The United States is also the largest bilateral donor to the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), supporting COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program. To date, the United States has provided nearly 4 million vaccine doses in partnership with COVAX to Kenya and, in addition, has also invested $4.5 million in technical assistance to support Kenya’s nationwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout program.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. 
Secretary Antony J. Blinken meets with Kenyan civil society leaders in Nairobi on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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