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Eric W. Kneedler, the Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY

 

Eric W. Kneedler, the Chargé d’Affaires at the American Embassy in Nairobi, spoke to Aggrey Mutambo on the country’s relations with and plans for Kenya.

With the change of administration, how important is Kenya to the new government’s foreign policy?

The US is committed to our relationship with Kenya. All the Biden Administration’s foreign policy priorities — trade and investment, peace and security, democratic institutions and human rights, and global health and climate change — require a strong partnership with Kenya. Enduring partnerships in the private sector, education, and people-to-people exchanges also demonstrate the importance of the US-Kenya relationship. Our two countries also work closely together on the global stage at the UN Security Council.

The bilateral trade negotiations were among the pending issues of the previous administration. What is the current stand?

 

The Biden-Harris Administration is going to review the status of the negotiations and the text of the US-Kenya FTA. We look forward to continuing to talk, working closely with the United States Trade Representative, which leads on trade policy and negotiation.

 

The US recently deployed a naval ship, the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, in the Indian Ocean waters. How does the US intend to pursue maritime security for the region?

The US is committed to peace, prosperity, and security. These values, shared by the US and Kenya, include free, fair, and reciprocal trade, peaceful resolution of disputes, respect for sovereignty, and adherence to international law.

 

There were rumours last year of the US seeking permission to launch drones on targets inside Kenya. Could you elaborate on that policy specifically, and counterterrorism co-operation general?

We are committed to combatting al-Shabaab and keeping Kenya safe from terrorist attacks. The US and Kenya routinely share intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information to keep Kenyans and Americans safe. Our security partnership has provided Ksh100 million ($9.09 million) in annual education and training support to the Kenya Defence Forces plus an additional Ksh35 billion ($318.2 million) in counterterrorism support over the past five years alone.   The US trained Kenyan law enforcement officers in a 10-week Counterterrorism Investigations Course and contributes Ksh1 billion shillings ($90.9 million) annually to support counter-terrorism efforts in building law enforcement capacity in Kenya through the Anti-Terrorist Assistance programme. The US provided high quality armoured personnel carriers to enhance the safety of KDF personnel and we have trained and equipped Kenya Border Patrol units with tactical gear, medical gear, weapons, unmanned aerial systems, and a mobile armoury.

All US Africa Command (Africom) activities are carefully co-ordinated with host nation governments, as well as other key partners. The US, both as part of our partnership with Kenya and to keep our forces safe, constantly evaluates and where necessary utilises the capabilities necessary to achieve those objectives.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said the US will deal with China by strengthening networks with old allies. Will the US play any role in infrastructure building in Kenya, the way the Chinese have?

The US already plays a role in infrastructure building in Kenya. US firms are improving and expanding Kenya’s digital capacity, and building manufacturing and power infrastructure. American universities are also partnering with Kenyan academic institutions to build research capacity. And perhaps most importantly, as the largest international donor with over Ksh60 billion ($545.5 million) in annual assistance, the US has supported Kenya’s health system infrastructure for almost 60 years through medicines, equipment, supplies, and research.

American-supported infrastructure and personnel conduct over half of all Covid-19 tests in Kenya today. The American model of doing business promotes sustainable growth that bolsters institutions, strengthens the rule of law, and builds the capacity. And because US companies are subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practises Act, they bring transparency and ethical standards to the deal making process.

What other areas of co-operation can we expect to see with the US?

President Joe Biden has spoken of “diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: Defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”

Similarly, Secretary Blinken spoke of “diplomacy to check the rise of authoritarianism, to prevent the spread of dangerous weapons, to shore up democracy, to defend human rights, all of which make the world more stable and free.”

We continue to partner closely with the government, civil society and the private sector to strengthen devolution, improve accountability, reduce corruption, and support credible and peaceful elections. We recently announced a new programme through USAid that will strengthen our support for Kenya-led efforts to advance governance and accountability reforms.

***
EXPERIENCE

Eric W. Kneedler became Chargé d’Affaires ad interim, at the US Embassy in Nairobi on January 20, 2021.

A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, he previously served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Nairobi from April of 2019 until January of 2021.

He began his assignment in Nairobi in 2017 as the Counselor for Political Affairs and also served as the Counselor for Political Affairs at the US Embassy in Manila and the Deputy Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Bangkok. By Aggrey Mitambo, The East African

Photo Anadolu Agency

 

A new report released in the Kenyan capital Nairobi Thursday revealed that governments in East Africa used the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the health and economies of the countries, to threaten civil liberties and democracy as a whole. 

The report by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) sought to get to the forefront of protecting and promoting civil liberties in East Africa.

“The crisis has presented an opportunity for authoritarians to strengthen their grip on power and further erode core civil freedoms. This has been especially acute in East Africa where general elections in Tanzania and Uganda have seen an intensification of power abuse and restrictions on freedom of assembly, speech and media,” the report said.

Inge Herbert, the FNF regional director, told a launch conference in Nairobi that “we have witnessed how authoritarian regimes such as John Magufuli [President of Tanzania] and Yoweri Museveni [President of Uganda] have used the pandemic as a pretext to strengthen their grip on power and limit freedom of assembly, speech and social media especially before, during and after elections.”

Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan human rights lawyer, who was handcuffed, blindfolded, and whisked away by police in December 2020, was also present at the meeting virtually. He could not join the launch in Nairobi as he is facing money-laundering charges.

Opiyo said, “Respect for the rule of law and civil liberties, in particular, appears to be in steep decline in East Africa. Governments in the region have enacted legislation, instead of promoting civil liberties, restrict the space for their enjoyment. In Uganda, social media and the entire internet were shut down for weeks during the elections, and civil society activists monitoring the elections were arrested and imprisoned. Some are still facing charges.”

The FNF hoped the new research will help fight back authoritarianism and anti-democratic practices.

According to the report, the top concerns of citizens in East Africa are corruption, unemployment, poverty, health care, and abuse by police. - Andrew Wasike, Anadolu Agency

Athletics body urged athletes not to travel to Tanzania for 2021 Kilimanjaro Marathon because of coronavirus concerns 

NAIROBI, Kenya

Kenyan athletes will not attend a major marathon in Tanzania because of concerns about the coronavirus, Kenya’s athletics body said Wednesday.

Three days before the event that is expected to host more than 9,000 runners from across the world, Athletics Kenya (AK) said in a statement that it informed “our athletes that due to the global outbreak and spread of COVID-19, Athletics Kenya will not be issuing authorization for athletes’ participation at the 2021 Kilimanjaro Marathon to be held in Tanzania on 28th February 2020.”

AK warned athletes “not to travel to Tanzania for the event.”

Organizers in Tanzania set up preventive measures for the race.

“We would like to appeal to our runners to please take the necessary precautions in terms of socially distancing norms and to wear the approved Personal Protective Equipment/Masks when starting, participating and finishing in their respective events,” the marathon said in a statement.

“We will be ‘seeding’ runners based on their honest input of their running times to allow for a staggered socially distanced start in all 3 races, so we appeal to all participants to indicate clearly on their entry application which seeding batch they would be most suitable for -- elite/fast/medium/slow,” it said in explaining how social distancing will be achieved.

But nations across the world are not convinced by the measures as the East African nation is among a few countries not to share publicly coronavirus infections.

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli previously urged citizens not to observe internationally-recognized measures to curb the spread of the disease. AA/ICC

President Uhuru Kenyatta (l) and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the unveiling of the BBI report at Kisii State Lodge in late 2020. At least 22 county assemblies are debating the proposed legislation, and several of them have already voted Yes.

Public participation The following 12 counties have subjected the bill to public participation ahead of debate and hearing. Mandera, Tana River, Uasin Gushu, Nandi , Elgeyo-Marakwet, Bomet, Kericho, Marsabit, Tharaka Nithi, Wajir, Kwale and Turkana.

Rejected bill Baringo County Assembly is the only legislative House that has thrown out the bill. Approved bill The BBI report had, as of Monday, February 22, been adopted in: Kisumu, Siaya, West Pokot, Homa Bay, Trans-Nzoia, Kajiado, Nairobi, Samburu and Kisii.

Turkana joins BBI bandwagon, passes BBI The number is now 41. Only five county assemblies are yet to vote on the bill. Feb 24 13:28 PM Wajir County Assembly votes Yes The number of county assemblies that have supported BBI now 40. Feb 24 13:28 PM Kericho County Assembly passes BBI Kericho County Assembly endorsed BBI early on Wednesday, February 24.  Tuko

Bobi Wine standing besides his armoured vehicle

National Unity Platform president Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine must declare his armoured (bulletproof) car donation by March 31, 2021, else it becomes government property, the acting Inspectorate General of Government (IGG) George Bamugemereire has warned. 

Last week, Kyagulanyi excited his local supporters when he declared on social media that his supporters living abroad had bought him an armoured vehicle to help him get through a violent campaign period. Now, Bamugemereire says where a leader fails to or refuses to justify that they are entitled to the donation in question, it becomes government property. Bamugemereire, says that like any leader, Kyagulanyi is expected to declare the vehicle, whether it was donated of bought by himself. 

Bamugemereire said Kyagulanyi still being a leader of a political party registered under Ugandan laws, like any other leader, he's expected to periodically declare his wealth, irrespective of how it was acquired. 

"People acquire property all the time, you know, and they have many ways - some have businesses. All we require of leaders is that come 31st March, please declare the assets, income and liabilities that you have acquired or assets that you have disposed off…That issue will be an issue after 31st March because all leaders are required to do now is to declare. What assets they acquired and how they got it. So I think that discussion should be conducted in April. If you have any leader in mind, me I don’t any," said Bamugemereire. 

The Leadership Code Act 2002 of Uganda compels all leaders to periodically declare their wealth, while a gift worth 10 currency points in value or Shs 200,000, is supposed to be declared immediately. An internet search shows that Kyagulanyi's new Toyota Land Cruiser vehicle costs from $85,000 (Shs 310m), while an armoured one goes for between $395,000 and $450,000 (about Shs 1.4 billion), depending on the features. 

Bobi Wine's supporters washing his vehicle

The director, Leadership Code Annet Twine says once a leader gets a donation, that leader is expected to declare it there and then. 

"What is provided for under Section 10 of the Leadership Code Act is that every leader, if you receive a gift in the course of your duties, you declare it there and then and they don’t give a time limit. So this leader who continues even to be a leader as the head of a political party is going to fill a declaration up to 31st March.

So we’re going to wait until he has submitted his declaration and then we shall see how he explains how he acquired the sources of income. If it is a donation, there is a provision in the form where you declare such property and explain the donation and where it came from. That is not a big issue now until the declaration period ends by 31st March 2021," said Twine. 

Kyagulanyi also said that even the bulletproof jacket and ballistic helmets he was wearing during campaigns were bought by his supporters. He said he received several bulletproof jackets that he gave to some of his supporters and aides who were in the line of danger. He said if he hadn't been wearing the bulletproof helmet, "the story would have been different" when they were shot at in Masaka.

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