Since assuming office in 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta has been busy reaching out to old allies in the West, such as the UK and the US, and strengthening relationships with rising powers, such as China and India. As the economic heavyweight of East Africa, the country has also played an important role in efforts at regional integration and at trying to resolve some of the transnational issues facing the area.
Kenya has taken a more active role in promoting reconciliation and stability in the region over the past few years. It served as a mediator in brokering the 2005 separation of Sudan, and Kenyatta himself played a crucial role in ending the recent civil war in South Sudan, which lasted from 2013 until August 2015. Despite this breakthrough, the situation there remains fluid, with violence having broken out once again between the two sides as recently as July 2016. In addition, domestic security concerns have compelled Nairobi to take a more active role in neighbouring Somalia, where Kenyan troops have been deployed since 2010 in an effort to help curtail the activities of Al Shabaab, the local affiliate of Al Qaeda that has been behind a number of terrorist attacks in Kenya, including the 2013 shootings at the Westgate Mall.
Kenya has historically maintained strong ties with major Western powers, including the UK, EU and US, among others. As a former colony and member of the Commonwealth, bilateral relations between Nairobi and London are particularly close, with the countries cooperating on several issues including security, trade and foreign direct investment. Indeed, the UK is one of Kenya’s largest trading partners, ranking as its third-largest export market after Uganda and the US in 2015, according to data compiled by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
The US is also a major source of the country’s imports, ranking third behind India and China in 2015. The US has signed trade and investment framework agreements with both the EAC and COMESA, which has helped to propel bilateral trade between the two countries over the past few years. Former President Barack Obama was also the first sitting US president to visit the nation when he came for a two-day visit in July 2015, where he held talks on trade, investment, security and counterterrorism with Kenyatta and other high-ranking Kenyan officials.
China & India
The government’s official foreign policy framework, which was written in 2014, states that “Kenya seeks to diversify its economic relationships and partnerships, with increased focus on the emerging economies and economic zones.” As part of this goal, Kenya has been strengthening ties with China and India. Over the past decade the former has emerged as the largest foreign investor in Kenya, which has become a focal point of its strategy to develop closer economic and political ties in Africa. Chinese investors have committed to large-scale projects in a variety of sectors, including energy, manufacturing, communications and transport, among others. The most headline-grabbing project, however, has been the $3.6bn Standard-Gauge Railway project connecting Mombasa and Nairobi funded by the Export-Import Bank of China. The new line is the first phase of a much railway that will link Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Furthermore, India, which is already one of Kenya’s largest trading partners, has also announced a recent spate of investments in the country. During a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2016, seven cooperation agreements were signed, including two that focused specifically on trade. One established a line of credit of $15m to IDB Capital for the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, and the other extended $29.95m to the Kenyan government for upgrades to the Rift Valley Textiles Factory. The two sides also agreed to establish a 100-bed cancer treatment centre in Nairobi.