In this file photo taken on October 8, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate former US Vice President Joe Biden pauses while speaking to supporters in front of an Arizona state flag, at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America’s training center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP
What a Joe Biden White House will mean for Kenya
The morning of November 7, 2020 was historic for three reasons. One, Americans had just come out in the largest numbers in living memory to vote for their 46th president.
Two, they had elected the first female, Asian-American vice-president of the United States.
Three, they had elected the oldest president-elect, at 77, and put only the second Catholic in the White House since J.F. Kennedy. As a result, the global community waited with interest for the election outcome.
What does Joe Biden’s victory mean for Kenya?
First, that multilateralism is the new game in town. His predecessor, President Donald Trump, focused on unilateralism — America First. — though both look to advance American interests.
Ironically, Kenya’s diplomacy gained great traction with the Trump Administration. The US supported the funding of Kenyan troops through Amisom in Somalia by over $100 million (Sh10 billion) annually, according to the US State Department. In addition, the country launched a direct flight between Nairobi and New York.
The US is the top source market for tourists to Kenya. Besides, the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA), under negotiation, is bound to benefit US and Kenyan economies. The irony in Trump’s departure is that policy-makers are not sure how the new regime will approach these negotiations.
Secondly, America will focus on democratic governance in Kenya. The outcome of the 2022 General Election could be hotly disputed. Washington will be looking to use quiet diplomacy to coerce the bickering political rivals to settle on a constitutional framework that will see the installation of a credible, transparent and independent electoral body.
With civil society organisations and election oversight bodies, the Biden presidency will hope to see peaceful elections in Kenya, just as America’s were.
Human rights pillar
Thirdly, the Biden White House will make human rights a core pillar of its foreign policy in Africa. The President-elect has close to half a century of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He will look to hold human rights-abusing governments on the continent to account for their actions.
Washington can opt for the International Criminal Court (ICC), at The Hague, to try politicians suspected to be behind electoral violence. Its structures can bring justice for the thousands killed during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/2008 and act as a deterrent to a repeat in 2022.
Big states have power but, equally, smaller states have agency. When their interests are in concert, things happen. There are winners and losers.
The puzzle around bringing justice to the thousands of victims of human rights abuses from the 2007 General Election via a Biden presidency will be something to watch closely.