TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

US VP Biden’s visit to Kenya signals more US interest in region

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Source: Coastweek (Kenya)

Heightened expectations greeted the arrival of a usual dignitary to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as U. S. Vice President Joe Biden jetted into the country on Monday night.

The much awaited arrival of Biden into the East African political and economic hub elicited huge expectations amongst political and business circles.

This was expected given the impact such a visit could have on the U.S.-Kenya diplomatic and economic relations and even to the larger East African Community (EAC) region, given the level of U.S. business interests in the region.

"It will be a good thing for Kenya and there is no doubt that Kenya is currently sitting on the runway but with one engine on and we need to open both engines and take off.

"If his visit sets in motion the political tempo and see the passing of the constitution," Bidco Group chief executive and Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Chairman Vimal Shah told Xinhua in an interview.

Although the agenda of his visit has been kept a closely guarded secret, the country’s referendum scheduled for August 4 has featured among the country’s political talk and will foster the good political relations between the two states.

"His visit may undoubtedly influence the reform process and possibly see the enactment of the new constitution, thus bolstering the relations.

"This is good for Kenya and for the whole of the EAC.

"Trade in EAC will boom anyway now that we are one market for 126 million people," Vimal said.

Kenya is set to hold a referendum on August 4 that could usher in a new constitution for the country if the draft constitution is enacted in what could ultimately usher in new flood gates of new investments.

Optimism already runs high among investors, who are trooping back to the country, opening up international hotels or spending hundreds of million dollars to secure the railway concession.

Chaos in neighboring Somalia and the ongoing reconciliation in Kenya are also expected to feature prominently.

Biden will be in the country for three days in what many see as renewed U.S. confidence in Kenya.

He will then represent President Barack Obama at the World Cup opening ceremony in South Africa.

Biden’s visit follows that of other U.S. dignitaries who have visited the country in the recent past including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

Both had a message to the two coalition principals President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga from Obama.

In August 2009, Clinton visited Kenya during her trip to Africa in which the U.S. sought to bolster trade relations with key African allies including Kenya. She visited South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde.

Her visit focused on the linkages between investment and economic growth as well as opportunities provided to African countries through the U.S. law, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

She called for stronger African links with global markets and knowledge networks.

Like Clinton, Biden is expected to meet the Speaker of the national assembly Kenneth Marende and visit the University of Nairobi.

Biden would also hold talks with Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review chairman Abdikadir Mohamed, and nine members of the Parliamentary Caucus on Reforms.

Although a dispatch from the White House states Biden will discuss "bilateral and regional security issues" with Kibaki and Odinga, the timing of the talks is curious.

Bidens’ visit comes at a time when the U.S. has shown renewed interest in Kenya and Africa as a whole.

Somalia has for long remained a headache for the U.S. as it was seen as a bedrock for the Al Qaeda operatives and the piracy along the Indian Ocean.

Besides the political dimension his visit is bound to elicit, Biden’s Kenyan tour is also seen to have an impact on businesses in the region given that Kenya is a business hub of the region and the attention the EAC has attracted in the recent past as an investment destination.

Like those before him, Biden is expected to push the realization of a new constitution.

Although the two principals have publicly stated their support for the document, some key government ministers and officials are out of step.

The U.S. government has previously warned of unspecified action against the Kenyan leadership should it fail to implement the reform agenda and end intermittent wrangles that have threatened to derail the Grand Coalition Government.

At the AGOA forum, Clinton noted that as Africa’s largest trading partners, The U.S. has embraced trade policies that support prosperity and stability.

"To echo President Obama’s words, we want to be your partner, not your patron," she was quoted as telling the gathering of African ministers.

She reckoned that the U.S. was exploring ways of lowering global trade barriers to ease the burdens on African farmers and producers. Currently, Africa accounts for 2 percent of global trade.