Between US and China, Kenya’s president asks ‘Why choose?’

President Kenyatta says his country has no interest in being drawn into a proxy war between Washington and Beijing.

Commuters wait for the train at a station in Nairobi, Kenya, where investments are needed to boost job opportunities for millions of young people [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Kenya‘s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced today that he will pursue closer ties with both the United States and China, on the eve of his meeting with US President Donald Trump on a potential free trade agreement.

“We don’t want to be forced to choose. We want to work with everybody, and we think there is an opportunity for everybody,” Kenyatta told the audience at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think-tank.

Kenya has no interest in being drawn into some proxy war between the world’s two largest economies, Kenyatta added, recalling decades of Cold War tensions between the US and the Soviet Union that also played out in Africa.

Kenya, keen to secure its economic future, can benefit from closer partnerships with both the US and China, Kenyatta said. While there has been a rise in tourism and growing investment, the East African nation needs to boost exports to create jobs at home for millions of young people. 

Kenyatta’s meeting with Trump is especially pertinent as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which allows sub-Saharan African countries to export thousands of products to the US without tariffs or quotas, is set to expire in 2025.

Stronger bilateral trade ties with the US would not undermine the African Continental Free Trade Agreement signed by 54 of 55 African Union members, Kenyatta said. He added that Kenya’s economy was more advanced than that of other African nations, and it could be a pacesetter for others.

Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton in 2018 announced plans to expand US economic ties with African nations to counter what he called aggressive efforts by China and Russia to expand their influence there.

“Kenya can have several best friends – the United States, China, Great Britain, the European Union and others. They need to do what is best for them to progress their economy, build their infrastructure and push the country forward,” said Johnnie Carson, a former US ambassador to Kenya.

Kyle McCarter, the current US envoy to Kenya, told Reuters that he viewed Kenya as an important strategic partner in Africa and looked forward to expanded trade in coming years.

“I don’t believe that a deepening of trade between our two countries … threatens anything,” President Kenyatta said.

Source: Reuters