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Kerry’s visit, America’s agenda

Kerry also announced the United States would give an additional US$117 million to support refugees, returnees and drought victims in Somalia. He said another $29 million will be donated to the U.N. refugee agency for the safe and voluntary return of Somali refugees in Kenya, primarily from the sprawling Dadaab camp.

Following an earlier closed-door meeting, a Kenyatta statement “expressed hope” Somalia will abide by its presidential election calendar, with polls scheduled for October 30. He also noted the importance of building capacity within the Somali National Army, as the African Union plans to draw down its mission in Somalia by 2018.

Security and Horn of Africa analyst Abdiwahab Abdisamad Abdisamad says a reformation of the Somali national army is the only way to restore security and stability in the country.

Somali military reformation proposed

“So many people are asking themselves the last half a century how 22,000 AMISOM troops, 10,000 Somali troops, the alpha group unit trained by the U.S. government, plus other Somali regional administrations’ troops are over 100,000 troops,” said Abdisamad. “All those forces are struggling to contain 5,000 militants. Therefore, this proves that this project is a failure and it is clear that a reformation of Somali military is better.”

Richard Tuta, a Kenyan homeland security expert, argues that Somalia impacts Kenya’s national security more than that of South Sudan, and that priority should be given to stabilizing Somalia.

“The happenings in South Sudan do not affect Kenya as a country directly, they only affect Kenya on refugee issues. But the happenings in Somalia, the insecurity in Somalia affect Kenya as a country directly,” said Tuta. “Somalia has been the command center of al-Shabab. Kenya is always on the receiving end of anything that happens in Somalia. Kenyan engagement in Somalia is of its own interest, but engagement in South Sudan is the opposite.”

Kerry noted that he and Kenyatta discussed the importance of preparations for Kenya’s 2017 national elections, and he said the United States is investing more than US$25 million to support that electoral process.

Opposition protests in Nairobi since April have stoked fears among church leaders and Western diplomats of a repeat of the violence following the 2007 election in which 1,200 people were killed.

“I am pleased to see that progress is being made in reforming the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and I urge in the most emphatic terms that disagreements about policy and process be resolved through peaceful means,” said Kerry. “Kenya has come a long way since the elections of 2007. It is up to leaders on all sides that the violence that took place in the aftermath of that election is never repeated.”

Kerry also met with participants in the Young African Leaders Initiative and the Mandela Washington Fellows programs before travelling to Nigeria and then Saudi Arabia.

This is not the first time that the U.S. and Kerry are making these demands on East and Horn of Africa leaders. When he was in the region in May 2015, Kerry made similar demands on the leaders to uphold democratic values, reject violence, and seek ways to ensure the economic prosperity of the region and its peoples.

Back then, as now, Kerry’s visit came on the back of a failed peace deal and volatility in South Sudan.

Kerry struggled to restart the stalled peace talks between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar with little success.

Kerry also promised U.S$30 million in election assistance aid for scheduled 2016 presidential vote in the DR Congo. To date, the elections have not happened and prospects look dim as rebels in eastern DRC are warning of a return to fighting.

The only item that was big in 2015 and appears to have changed in 2016 is the presence of Uganda government armed forces in South Sudan. Back in 2014 there was a big demand for Ugandan security forces to leave South Sudan. They were withdrawn last year. Kerry’s mixed scorecard from 2015 is being used as a benchmark for the success of his 2016 visit.

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