The United States is Committed to Working with Kenya on Security – Op-ed by U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec

At the 50-year mark, the partnership between the United States and Kenya is broad and robust.  It rests on a rock solid foundation of shared values and interests.  Americans work side by side with Kenyans to achieve a wide range of common goals.  We support Kenya as it works to educate its children, deliver health care, empower youth, protect wildlife, build infrastructure, and create jobs.  All told, the U.S. government provides nearly KSH 85 billion each year to Kenya in assistance, and this money is given as grants, not as loans.  We are partners in business, in development, and in the fight against terror.

Unfortunately, in recent months the security situation in Kenya has changed.  Al Shabaab and its sympathizers pose a serious and growing threat to Kenyans and to members of the international community.  They have engaged in ruthless violence, targeting Kenyans, Americans, and others.  The goals of terrorism are to create fear, divide us, and drive us apart.  We must remain united in rejecting and condemning al Shabaab and its despicable attacks.  To stop the violence, we must face the threat these terrorists pose squarely and together, for the sake of Kenya, the region, and the world.

In addressing these challenges, the U.S. Embassy is in close touch with the Kenyan government.  We provide billions of shillings in equipment and training to Kenya’s security forces.  We share with the Kenyan authorities all of the information we have about threats.  The United States also cooperates closely with the Somali government and AMISOM to combat the problem at its source.

There should be no doubt: the United States is working very hard to help Kenya strengthen its security.  At the same time, the Kenyan government has increased security for the international community, to include the U.S. Embassy, and we are grateful for that.  We are in this fight together.

In recent days, unfounded rumors have circulated regarding the updated U.S. travel warning for Kenya and about upcoming changes in personnel at the Embassy.  The first obligation of the U.S. government, like all governments, is to inform and protect its citizens.  At the Embassy, we take this obligation very seriously.  Our travel warnings and security messages are not political statements.  They are issued without consideration to visits by foreign leaders.  They are not designed to create economic problems for Kenya.  The United States has not “evacuated” any citizens.  We have not advised Americans against visiting Kenya and have not “banned” travel here.  We have informed American citizens about the security situation so that they can make informed decisions about their potential visits.  We keep our travel warnings under constant review, and when security improves, we recognize it.  The modest staffing changes we are considering at the Embassy will not affect our assistance to Kenya.  The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi has not closed and is not closing.

The conspiracy theories floating around are more than just wrong, however.  They divert attention from where our shared efforts need to be: strengthening security.  The Westgate attack and the bombings in Nairobi, Mombasa, and elsewhere are evidence of a serious threat to all of us.  Today, we should focus on security.

As we take steps to improve security, the U.S. Embassy will continue its essential work here.  For example, we will continue to connect U.S. and Kenyan businesses and assist those interested in using the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to export duty free to the United States.  We will work to strengthen Kenya’s health sector through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and many other programs.  We will work with Kenyan farmers to help them improve their yields and expand the markets for their crops.  We will work to assist in building infrastructure, feeding school children, supporting refugees, stopping wildlife poaching, and building a better future for all Kenyans.

In the coming weeks, the United States will underscore its commitment to Kenya in three major events.  Next week, 46 young Kenyans will head to the United States as part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI.  Those leaders will get training at major American universities and in Washington.  When they return to Kenya, we will work with Kenyan businesses to organize internships and development opportunities for them, and ensure they are able to apply the skills learned from their experiences.  We are also looking forward to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., which will feature Kenya and showcase for Americans the rich culture and heritage of this great country.  And in August, President Obama has invited President Kenyatta to join him at the first U.S.-African Leaders Summit, which will be another major opportunity to deepen our relations.

The partnership between Kenya and the United States has accomplished much in 50 years.  The threat from extremists poses new challenges, but together we can overcome them.  Success will require strong efforts on security as well as holding firm to our shared values, including democracy, human rights, rule of law, and economic progress.  I assure you of this: the commitment of the United States to Kenya is unchanged and unwavering.  We remain a strong and steadfast partner of the government and people of Kenya.