US-Kenya Counter-terrorism cooperation is needed now more than ever

28th August 2018

Earlier this month, Kenyans gathered to recognize the 20th anniversary of the truck bombing that destroyed the American embassy in Nairobi, killing 213 (mostly Kenyan) innocent civilians and ordinary citizens. The attack was carried out by an operative of the jihadist group Al-Qaeda, and is largely viewed as the precursor to 9/11.

Since then, the world is no safer from attacks of the like, and Kenya is a perfect example.

20 years after the embassy bombing, the Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Shabaab poses an increasingly dire security risk to the country. This is especially true in the Coastal and Northeastern provinces, the latter of which is located on the border with Somalia where they enjoy a largely unopposed control.

Like many other developing countries, Kenya relies heavily on aid from the United States, and a large amount of this is needed to be allocated to fight terrorism. Unfortunately, this aid is contingent on the willingness of whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office to continue giving it, and it appears that the Trump administration is none too willing.

The budget proposal released by the administration in March slashed aid to developing countries by over one-third. And the most recent national defense strategy report released around the same time focuses almost exclusively on the threat posed by the other major world powers, primarily China and Russia, while mentioning Africa only once in passing.

It is understandable to focus a greater amount of attention and resources on the countries that threaten U.S. hegemony, but there needs to be a sense of proportion. Although Al-Shabaab does not threaten the United States’ position on the world stage, it will further destabilize the West African region if gone unchallenged. And this destabilization could lead to real domestic security concerns within the United States if the region became a terrorist headquarters akin to Afghanistan prior to the 9/11 attacks.

But there is optimism! This week, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will visit Washington. It is critical that the Trump administration use this opportunity to build a stronger relationship with Kenya, and give President Kenyatta the help his country needs to counter the growing threat of violent extremism. Continued engagment with Kenya, the continent of Africa on the worldwide movement to combat extremism is needed more than ever.