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USA Marafiki Op-ed by U.S. Ambassador Kyle McCarter
January 18, 2021

USA Marafiki

By Kyle McCarter, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya

Group of people looking at documents displayed on a table.Kenya has always been a part of my life. First through my father’s good works to bring health and education to children in need in Tharaka Nithi and then as Victoria and I continued his vision and Tharaka Nithi became a second home to us.  To return decades later as U.S. Ambassador was the greatest honor of my life and an extraordinary opportunity to serve my country for the benefit of the American and Kenyan people. I am sad to announce that this privilege is coming to an end on January 20 when I will resign my post. Nevertheless, Kenya will continue to play a large role in my life.

As I reflect on my time as Ambassador, I continue to believe that Kenya should no longer be just a beneficiary of foreign aid, but a benefactor to the rest of East Africa. The U.S.-Kenya partnership, that which we call “USA Marafiki” is deeper and broader than ever. The United States is committed to walking with Kenya down this pathway to self-reliance by going from aid to trade. This experience will uplift all Kenyans through education and skills training into a prosperous economy with good jobs, strong businesses, and health, benefiting all the wananchi, not just the elites.

The outcome of our ongoing free trade agreement negotiations will make Kenya more competitive and stronger economically. Imagine the benefits of giving Kenyan businesses increased access to American markets and expanded choice, lower prices, and higher quality goods for consumers. We will negotiate as equals and our success will raise the U.S.-Kenya trade relationship to greater heights, raising the ethical standard of doing business and shaming those that rob the wananchi of their deserved prosperity.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the hardships it has brought to so many individuals and nations has defined the past year. I am proud of all that the United States has accomplished with Kenya to combat COVID-19 together. Although the United States was the hardest hit in the world we remained the most generous providing over 100 Billion KS of assistance to other nations, with over Ksh 7.6 billion worth of PPE, test kits, equipment, training, and research including 200 American-made ventilators going to Kenya. In fact, over half of all COVID testing in Kenya has been accomplished through direct U.S. support. This adds to the Ksh 60 billion we provide annually for Kenya’s health needs, making the United States the largest international donor by far. This is what friends do for one another in crisis.

In addition to health and economic prosperity, successful countries also require strong democratic institutions and government. We must listen to the farmers, teachers, health care providers, and business people in every county. I am proud to have visited and met with Kenyans from all 47 counties in an effort to expand commercial ties, highlight U.S. programs that build Kenya’s self-reliance, and promote youth empowerment and anti-corruption. These face to face conversations with the Kenyan people were the highlight of my tenure as Ambassador. Meeting the hard working mothers and fathers and the passionate innovative youth has made me more proud of the Kenyan people than ever.

Another reason I traveled to the counties was to champion devolution. Devolution is here to stay. A smaller local government is more responsive and sensitive to the needs of its citizens. The United States trained, mentored, and provided expert support including on-job-training to over 38,000 county officials and 7,500 national officials. As a result, 22 counties have made significant progress in setting up administrative, fiscal, and legislative systems and processes to ensure functional devolved governance. Democracy also requires a strong, independent media. The United States supported training in media ethics, professionalism, and investigative journalism for over 400 print, broadcast, and digital journalists across Kenya.

As we have seen in the United States recently and through our 244 years as an independent country – democracy is not easy. Nevertheless, it has proven itself repeatedly to be the best system of government. Democracy is also fragile. People make up our institutions. People make up our governments. People are fallible and make mistakes. Democracy gives us the chance to recognize our mistakes, to learn from them, and to make changes to ensure our institutions and our leaders do not repeat those mistakes. I am inspired by the dedication, energy, and vision of Kenya’s youth who will build Kenya’s democracy of the future.

As President Abraham Lincoln, from my home state of Illinois, said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” Our feet and our hearts are in the right place in our friendship and partnership with the great country of Kenya. Sisemi “kwaheri” lakini “tutaonana.”