A Close Relationship With Kenya Is Essential to Our Country’s Success



Senator Chris Coons | The Hill

Kenyan President William Ruto arrived in the United States this week for a key state visit at a pivotal time in U.S.-Kenya relations: Kenya has become increasingly significant as an economic and security partner, and President Ruto is a leading voice on advancing democracy and opportunity, promoting conservation and combatting climate change.

President Ruto needs to show to his people that democracy delivers for Kenya. The United States has been a strong supporter of this goal. We can still do more.

Kenya is one of our most critical allies on an increasingly important continent; a booming population means that within a decade, 1 in 5 people on the planet will be living in Sub-Saharan Africa. While the rest of the world gets older, the median age in Africa is only 19. African countries have massive reserves of critical minerals, renewable energy, and arable land. It is their human resources, however, that are most valuable and some of the fastest growing in the world.

Someone who understands these facts well is U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman. In the burgeoning tech hub of East Africa, Whitman has been a tireless cheerleader for Kenya’s economic growth and potential. She has championed its growing manufacturing sector and its compelling use of renewable energy sources, which power most of the country’s energy needs.

Whitman’s approach is exactly what’s needed in Africa as a whole: an enthusiastic U.S. push for democratic ideals coupled with equitable economic growth. Through the bipartisan African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the United States has for two decades provided broad market access to sub-Saharan African countries and encouraged U.S. private sector investment. It also incentivizes good governance, workers’ rights and the rule of law. In Kenya, AGOA has jumpstarted the emergence of a promising apparel sector, creating job opportunities and economic growth.

Unfortunately, AGOA expires next year. Without an early reauthorization, global industry may turn away from opportunities in Africa. That’s why Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and I introduced the AGOA Renewal and Improvement Act of 2024 last month. This bill would extend the program to 2041, providing businesses the long-term certainty they need to move their supply chains away from China and invest in Africa.

Kenya is more than just part of a growing economic bloc, however — it is an example for its neighbors in a rapidly changing part of the world. Kenyans have fought hard to be a democracy on a continent that has more coups than any other. A country that is already facing the effects of climate change, Kenya has stepped up to the plate as a partner in conservation efforts. In this, too, the United States can do more. By bolstering public-private partnerships in communities that manage protected and conserved areas, we can protect the environment while investing in the people who live in and around these natural wonders.

Kenya is also a critical security partner both within Africa and beyond. Last year, the U.S. and Kenya signed a five-year defense cooperation agreement, strengthening the already strong relationship between our armed forces. Whether it’s partnering on counterterrorism efforts in East Africa, the anti-Houthi task force in the Red Sea, or the Multinational Security Support mission to Haiti, the United States and Kenya are working together on strategic goals not just for our countries but the world. This week we will reaffirm our security partnership, particularly in the face of a growing Russian footprint in Africa.

The United States has also prioritized delivering on better investments in development and offering an alternative to China’s debt-trap diplomacy. China far and away dominates trade with Africa, investing three times as much in the continent as American counterparts. To this, the United States has an answer: the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). By investing early in companies, the DFC can provide the funding needed to ensure new ideas and innovation can succeed without opaque and high-priced Chinese loans.

The tests Kenya faces are echoed across the continent and the globe. Their approach is rooted in a belief in democracy, in expanding opportunity, and collaborating with partners, including the United States. It’s a testament to President Biden’s leadership that he recognizes that a close relationship with Kenya is essential to our country’s success, and that a state visit from a Kenyan president sends a signal of our seriousness.

This visit is smart and strategic for both President Ruto and President Biden, and reflects a collaborative, forward-thinking perspective on tackling the urgent global challenges of our time. Ever since I first set foot in Nairobi 40 years ago, a bright-eyed college student, I knew I had entered a special, dynamic place full of potential. Now the rest of the world sees that, too. This state visit demonstrates American commitment to Kenyans — not just for this week, but for generations to come.

Chris Coons is the junior senator from Delaware and is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

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