Becoming Besties

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Western influence on the African continent has been waning in recent years, with many countries moving toward China and Russia, often after military coups have overthrown democratically elected leaders – for example, in Niger and Mali.

Kenya, however, has been an outlier, a steady friend.

As a result, the country recently became the first sub-Saharan African country to become a major non-NATO ally of the US, reported the BBC. The announcement was made when Kenyan President William Ruto visited President Joe Biden in Washington in late May, the first African state visit to the American capital in more than 16 years, added the South China Morning Post.

The shift reflects the East African country’s increasingly large role on the world stage.

For more than a decade, Kenyan troops have been fighting al-Shabab, an Islamist terror organization with ties to al-Qaeda, in nearby Somalia, wrote the Council on Foreign Relations. An American military base on Kenya’s coast has played a key role in that counter-insurgency campaign.

Kenyan forces are being deployed to Haiti as part of a United Nations-backed peacekeeping effort to stabilize the country. While Kenya is a former British colony where English is the primary language, and Haiti is a former French colony where citizens speak Creole, as the Miami Herald explained, the optics of African rather than American or European forces landing on the island’s Caribbean beaches bears powerful symbolism.

Kenyan officials were also deeply involved in peace talks between Ethiopia’s central government and rebels in the country’s northern Tigray region, who have been fighting a civil war for two years, the East African newspaper reported. Ruto has also been overseeing talks between countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa, where fighting in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused chronic instability.

Other international partnerships are flowering, too. Last year, for instance, Kenya hosted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for meetings on topics ranging from the fortunes of the global south, the civil war in Sudan, and green energy, wrote World Politics Review.

Ruto is intelligently using his country’s influence to garner more from China, whose leaders also want to curry favor with the ever-more-powerful country. China recently finalized $1 billion worth of loans for Kenyan infrastructure projects, for example, reported CNN. Analysts pointed to these investments as one reason why Biden extended his hand for military cooperation with Kenya. China also recently sent money to Kenya to help mitigate flood damage, China Daily added.

Rather than saying Kenya is picking sides, analysts said, one might posit that Kenya is playing a bit to both.

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