A New Partnership Or ‘Our Man In Africa’? – OpEd


In politics, particularly in international relations, the most crucial elements of agreements are often those that remain unspoken or unwritten. The agreement that secured Kenya’s status as a Major Non-NATO Ally amidst growing anti-Western sentiments across Africa and geopolitical strategic restructuring in many parts of the world is no different. 

In the short-term, as it was stated, the agreement may set the stage for Kenya and US cooperation in ‘technology’ and ‘peace and security.’ It may also facilitate access to IMF and World Bank and ensure VIP invitations to the global forums, but in the long-term Kenya is likely to pay a hefty price for two reasons. First, in the American playbook, economic development with global south means compelling partners to reserve a wide market space for predatory capitalists. Second, trying to swim against the tides of Africa’s newly found consensus on reclaiming all rights to its own resources and seeking fair market value would subject Kenya to new challenges. 

US’ Image In Africa 

According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2023, US has been losing the soft-power war to China.  Moreover, US have been trailing behind Turkiye and Russia in establishing strategic partnerships with key countries in the continent, especially with countries in the geopolitical center of gravity- the Horn of Africa. Worse, US has been losing close allies. The latest being Niger and Ethiopia. The former ordered 1000 American troops out by September of this year. The latter, though domestically in turmoil, has embraced China and Russia and joined BRICS- the economic bloc projected to end the Western domination of the international financial system and establish a new law-based international order.

Ironically, it wasn’t that long ago when Kenya’s President William Ruto himself was at the forefront of the Neo-Africans’ diplomatic revolt intended to de-Westernize Africa by rejecting certain Western values such as accepting the public display and celebration  of LGBTQ rights- a matter that many African countries believe is being shoved in their collective throat.  Now that he has signed a strategic agreement whose conditional clauses promote the very same values that majority of his countrymen oppose, Ruto could be declared a compromised man.    

Filling Ethiopia’s Shoes 

Choosing Kenya to fill the vacuum left by Ethiopia was a natural selection that the war-mongering foreign policy drivers in Washington could only thank their lucky star for. Nairobi is reminiscent of Vienna during the Cold War. Especially in the past few decades after collapse of the Somali government and the evils that ensued, Nairobi became where corrupt influential politicians, international/domestic NGOs, intelligence spooks, mercenaries, security experts, narrative creators, and guerrilla diplomats often rendezvous negotiate deals agreements. Kenya is already part of ATMIS that is in charge of Somalia’s security and peace-keeping. Kenya is also in the final stage of deploying 1000 ‘police force’ to stabilize Haiti and guard US interest there, as it has been in some other countries in Africa where the West has been losing ground. 

More importantly, Kenya is offering the US a military base in Lamu and an open invitation to deploy US forces. A US military base has three appeals for Kenya: revenues from the leasing and other related services, de facto reinforcement of Kenya’s rejection of ICJ—UN’s highest court—”to grant Somalia control of disputed waters in the Indian Ocean”, and to establish new military facts on the ground that would ultimately secure Kenya’s long sought buffer-zone or annexation of part of Somalia’s territory.  

Now that its previously attempted acquisition of the strategic port of Berbera (Somalia) has proven more complex than previously thought, US found a more attractive deal with Kenya. A military base in Wajir where US could conduct special operations with a limited number of US soldiers, international mercenaries, and local counter-terrorism contingent that is similar to DANAB in Somalia. The current Wajir Military Airbase was built by Israel between 1977 and 78. 

The deal also includes a military a floating military base at Lamu where AFRICOM could find a permanent home, ample access to the Indian Ocean, and beautiful tropical beaches for periodical stress-relief. The tourist town of Malindi is only 85 miles to the south of Lamu. And al-Shabaab’s command center in Jilib, Jubbaland that ought to be called the Black House is only 175 miles north of it. How about that for irony?

Boots On The Ground

Ruto reiterated that all too familiar al-Shabaab pretext and the importance of keeping that seemingly perpetual cash-cow known as ATMIS. Kenya has 5000 troops in ATMIS that currently cost more than 40,000 Somali soldiers. This contingent is already trained well enough to advance many overt and covert operations for the right deal. 

We have “serious security challenges” that will result from ATMIS phase out that is “calendar-based and not condition-based,” said Ruto. He also affirmed that both he and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia are eager for US intervention. “Our position is that United States should step-in and change the trajectory,” said Ruto. Never mind that al-Shabaab is neither monolithic in vision and identity nor is it empowered by legitimacy of public support as did the Taliban. 

After successive strategic failures in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Israel, the Biden administration is hard pressed to secure a gate-opener deal in Africa. And that deal had to be secured before the presidential election which is coming this November. 

Ruto’s Appeal 

Could Ruto, who has three years before facing election, become the BRICS-buster that successfully lures key African countries back into the arms of their old Western masters? 

Ever since France was kicked out of many of its former colonies in Africa, paranoia has been dominating the power brokers and strategic planners in the US and across Europe. Finger-pointing at the top level is already underway. “It is the imbecility of Emmanuel Macron that opened the eyes of Africans. One thing is for sure: if France loses its colonies, our children and grandchildren will have to go Africa to search for their livelihood,” said France’s former Economic Minister, Thierry Breton. If you could manage to ignore his unabashed racist entitlement, you may appreciate his irrefutable confession to the exploitative relationship that his country had with its former colonies. 

Business As Usual

It is an open secret that the neocons whose only contribution to the world has been a bloody scam named Global War on Terrorism for perpetual exploitation and to advance Israel’s interests are dominating the Biden administration. Though Israel has prominent intelligence and political presence in Kenya, it is nervous about losing many of its African friends due to the sadistic genocide it has been carrying out against the Palestinians of Gaza. Countries such as South Africa that filed the genocide case against Israel at the ICJ and Algeria are adamant about keeping Israel at bay. Against that backdrop, the neocons want to make Israel the gate-keeper that vets African leaders- similar to the role it has been playing in the Middle East. 

These are the same neocons that pressured the ICC in 2007 to charge Ruto with crimes against humanity for his role on a post-election violence. A decade later, the case was declared a mistrial for “troubling incidence of witness interference and intolerable political meddling.” Ruto may be smart, articulate, and self-confident, but he is no Paul Kagame of Rwanda when it comes to putting his country’s interest before his own. But how he may turn out is a matter for historians to document. 

In 1962, only two years after Somalia’s independence and at the peak of the Cold War, Prime Minister Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was invited by President John F. Kennedy for a State Visit. While the optics were fantastic and the rhetoric grandiose, the Kennedy administration made two deal-breaking errors that compelled Sharmarke to immediately establish strategic partnership with now defunct Soviet Union as soon as he departed the US. First, Sharmarke was denied assistance to build an army for Somalia- an initiative that Ethiopia considered a threat. Second, though more subtle, his Islamic values were offended when Kennedy offered a toast to Sharmarke. Here is that moment as archived in the Kennedy Library. 

A glorified version of ‘Our Man In Africa’ status at this heightened stage of steadily growing push-back against Western economic exploitation could potentially prove a kiss of death for Ruto’s political future and could make Kenya more insecure.      

In due course, Ruto will face challenges both in Kenya, the region, and in the continent as a whole. He may fire-up his opposition and be systematically sidelined by his fellow neo-Africans who would likely question his loyalty. However, the real day of reckoning for Ruto is likely to emerge when the growing young generation realizes that much of the economic development and aid monies that the US promises will not guarantee them real jobs with real income.

Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is the author of "Broken Camel Bells: Somalia Age of Terrorism," and is a foreign policy analyst and a former diplomat. On Twitter: @4DialogSK

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