Mr. Frederick Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council

Officials of the United States Government

Members of the Atlantic Council

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning.

Thank you for inviting me to have a conversation with you. By the time I finish my short remarks, I hope that I will have argued effectively that Africa has immense strategic importance to the security and prosperity of the Transatlantic alliance that the Atlantic Council was founded to advance. I also understand we have had personnel in common: Ambassador Martin Kimani, one of my officers, worked here at the Atlantic Council.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Think Tank came into being to consolidate the peace following World War 2. Two years after your founding, Kenya attained her independence from the British. Our struggle and the World War had played their part to weaken the colonial enterprise, and the United States, aware of its own past, stood with freedom-loving people. Our struggle for independence occurred in lock-step with your country’s campaign for full civil rights for all citizens. In the end, we won our freedom, and you advanced your democracy.

Those early years of our independent life brought us very close to the United States. Thurgood Marshall helped us write our first Constitution. Barack Obama’s father left our shores, supported by American benefactors, to seek out knowledge. And ended up gaining it plus a son who would one day be President of the United States.

Kenya looked to the United States for democracy and to build the prosperity we needed to combat poverty, disease and ignorance. Much was achieved.

However, as the 60s progressed, and your Cold War with the Soviet Union escalated, our region became a proxy ground for that conflict. Your Cold War led to many hot wars, revolutions and coups in our region. We tried to chart a careful path between two battling giants but it was very difficult and in many ways infected our politics and stability.

Democracy retreated in many parts of Africa, and an authoritarianism arose that exploited the Cold War to entrench itself. Our leaders failed to succeed in building strong economies. We watched as Asian countries that had started off poorer than some of us became rich in less that two generations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am returning to this history because we must never again be drawn into the mistakes we made then. You here at the Atlantic Council, and your audience, must integrate our place in your strategic schemes as more than a continent producing security threats or unregulated migration that must be countered.

We must begin to look at Africa as the world’s biggest opportunity, if you can dare look at it with a fresh eye and a sense of history. And Kenya is a key country in converting that opportunity into mutual gain.

I have noticed in the conversation in Western countries and their counterparts in Asia and the Middle East a return to competition over Africa. In some cases weaponising divisions, pursuing proxy actions, and behaving like Africa is for the taking. It is not.

If you understand the opportunity, you will seek to grow strong partnerships driven by collaborative and generous principles. Very much like the values that guided the United States engagement with Europe after World War 2. To grasp this opportunity, you will need to listen and engage with what we in Africa want and need.

Let me try and match your opportunity to ours, in just two few standout areas: prosperity and security.

The first is that there is a lot of capital in the United States and Europe that is seeking greater yield in developed markets with ageing populations. Who will find the growth that funds all those citizens retiring after a lifetime of hard work, who are keen to enjoy their retirement years.

Africa by contrast has the world’s youngest and fastest growing population; the most unexploited land for agriculture; immense mineral wealth; and large consumer markets. We must tap into these assets to create decent jobs in the millions for our young people. We must become wealthy enough to provide the health, education and security that will sustain democracy, stability and strong public support for business and free trade.

Africans are not standing still. We are integrating East Africa deeply, and the Continental Free Trade Agreement is a game changer. Today, there is a marked desire among my fellow African leaders to seek decisive change in how Africa engages the world. We want partners who are walking in the same direction as we are.

Kenya is moving aggressively to bring our infrastructure up to date. Our population is the best educated in the region, and arguably in Africa. We are making big investments in building technical skills, attacking corruption, lowering barriers to doing business, and stabilising our democratic politics. We are not just a gateway, we are a platform of skills, entrepreneurship, stability, and the rule of law.

That is why I am looking forward to making an early and ambitious start to arrangements for the foreseen end of the AGOA programme in 2025. I hope that all of you will support a process that shows how long-term mutual benefit can deliver in a way that clearly supports Africa’s integration and prosperity agenda. It is early days yet, but I strongly believe that we have an opportunity to show the way forward together as Kenya and the United States.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the second area is in protecting the security of our peoples. We have a lot of young people. They see on their social media what your youth see here. They listen to the same music, aspire to very similar consumption. Your young people have almost full employment with which to satisfy their desires and ambitious. Millions of our young people are unemployed. It is an unsustainable situation. If this reality does not change quickly, we will produce in Africa many security crises that will leave no corner of this globe untouched.

There are ideological extremists, opposed deeply to democracy, the West and unity across ethnic, religious and racial barriers. Alongside these there are criminals that operate across boundaries ready to traffic our youth no matter what barriers are erected against the flow. The extremists, militants and criminals are already uniting to seriously challenge the continuity of states in many parts of Africa and the world.

We will never realise the immense wealth we can build together, or hope to hold onto the little we have, if African states remain relatively weak and vulnerable to these destructive actors. The secure and rules-based global order that can assure your security and prosperity has to be built on a patchwork of effective, stable and secure states governed in an inclusive and participatory manner.

Your aid and development programmes, and norm promotion must do more to support stronger states, and not unintentionally dovetail with destabilising factors. You will also advance your own interests if you listen to Africans more keenly, resist being drawn into proxy struggles with other global powers, and genuinely work with those countries that are determined to emerge as African Lions in the next few years.

You can also make your financial centres and institutions inhospitable to illegal and illicit financial flows out of Africa. This is a major reason that Kenya has been signing agreements with countries to ensure the corrupt do not easily transfer their ill-gotten wealth abroad.

A crucial role that you can play is to ensure that regional and international terrorist groups do not hold any territory in Africa. As has been observed, they can start in one country but have a tendency to mutate and cross borders and become very destructive.

A good start to this is Al Shabaab. We must work together, as Kenya and the United States, and together with the region, to surge our military efforts against the group to offer room for a workable political consensus in Somalia. The group’s ability to raise finances through contraband and its penetration of businesses and even public sector bodies in Somalia must be challenged at every turn. We are already ramping up an aggressive posture against contraband into our country.

The effort to defeat the group would be helped immensely by compliance to countering terrorism financing, fighting money laundering, and other international obligations against terrorism are observed. Regionally, and in Somalia specifically where the core of the challenge exists.

Institutions like the Atlantic Council can do a lot to push against agendas that insist democracy is a one-size-fits-all outfit that end up deeply undermining the sustained strengthening of democracy. Please note that I do not mean we should agree that authoritarian or dictatorial regimes that announce themselves should be taken at their word. The point is that we must give countries the room to engineer new approaches that support and extend democracy in line with their respective realities. It requires bringing more nuance to how we make judgements about politics, and the resulting interventions countries like the United States should undertake.

Political, social and governance engineering is what we are presently embarking on in Kenya with the Building Bridges Initiative. I will discuss it more at the National Prayer Breakfast luncheon this afternoon; I hope some of you will be in attendance. In a nutshell, BBI, as it is called in Kenya, is a homegrown solution for a divisive political culture that has often sparked electoral crises over the last thirty years. It advances three goals:

1. To preempt any further escalation in the cycle of no-holds barred political competition by taking early and decisive action to reach out across the aisle. I did this with Hon. Raila Odinga in March 2018 at a time when few in Kenya or anywhere imagined this was possible.

2. To use inclusivity to strengthen the centre of politics which is necessary for democracy in our country to be successful. That centre is identified by being able to manifest the qualities of moderation, pragmatism and a willingness to compromise. Our stepping toward one another disoriented the politics of extremism and division.

3. To ensure that the strengthened and more stable centre is able to deliver bold reforms that advance inclusion, economic uplift, countering corruption and strengthening institutions.

As a Think Tank, you should delve deeper into the BBI process. It is not as simple as it looks. We have found a number of countries seeking to learn from it in trying to re-engineer their politics and social contracts. We have been open in sharing. In time, I believe that this may emerge as a unique model that can be adopted and domesticated elsewhere on the African continent.

The United States must dare to imagine and support African-driven solutions. We have the most to gain in making Africa work for its people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I could go on but I also want to hear what you have to say and respond to your questions. So please allow me to close there, hoping that I have provided you with encouragement to look at Africa afresh and with an open mind.

Thank you again to the Atlantic Council for this invitation.


VIPs in Attendance.

– Mr. Frederick Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council

– Ambassador Kyle McCarter, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya

– Ambassador Johnny Carson, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (also a former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya)

– Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

– Ambassador Terence McCully, former U.S. Ambassador to multiple African countries

– Dr. J. Peter Pham, U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa

Source: The President (Latest News)