The African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum in Kenya last week was a tremendous stage for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to launch her tour of Africa to promote a new partnership between the United States and the nations of the continent to replace the prescriptive nature of our previous engagement. However, as the Secretary’s visit demonstrates, it is not possible to completely transform American engagement.
Secretary Clinton consistently hit the key points of American policy toward Kenya: 1) reform that will effectively tackle the scourge of corruption, 2) cooperation within the Government of National Unity that will eliminate the threat of resumed violence like that which followed the disputed 2007 elections and 3) either a tribunal or cooperation with international judicial authorities leading to the prosecution of those responsible for the serious human rights violations following the 2007 elections.
Certainly, there is nothing untoward about what Secretary Clinton, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnny Carson or U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger have said or are saying about Kenya. I would suggest that partnership requires straight talk and does not mean that one should only point to “blue skies” in a genuine relationship. If your friend is about to step in a hole, you are required to tell them so, and make no mistake, Kenya remains in a very precarious situation absent some significant movement on the reform and governance agendas.
Nevertheless, the more we public scold Kenyan officials, the more they dig in their heels against our prescriptions. Of course, Kenyans generally do not share this view of U.S. heavy-handedness. Nine out of 10 Kenyans view the United States favorably, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Kenyan civil society has been America’s biggest cheerleader on pushing the Kenyan government to make the changes championed by the Obama administration. So while Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga wants America to “Quit lecturing Africa on politics,” as one Daily Nation headline asserted, his people don’t appear to share his view.
What Secretary Clinton will find is that telling our African allies what we think should be done is part of being a good ally. Consequently, U.S. policy will continue to be at least partially prescriptive so long as the countries we engage have serious issues that we believe need to be addressed. After all, they don’t hesitate to tell us what we need to do, now do they?