Kenya is a democratic outpost in a very bad neighborhood. The raging conflict in Sudan is one of many challenges faced by a continent that will be home to one out of every four people on Earth by 2050.
Piracy and lawlessness in Somalia. Ongoing unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. A newly announced arms trade agreement between South Africa and Russia. These are all examples of freedom and democracy losing ground in Africa – a region of paramount importance to America’s long-term national security.
Our recent trip to Kenya confirmed that our Nation’s engagement in the country, in the form of evangelizing the merits of capitalism, promoting targeted humanitarian aid, and opening trade and investment, explicitly supports two key U.S. national security priorities: disarming Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization based in Somalia and countering the Chinese Communist Party’s growing global influence, which are critical as we move forward in the 21st century.
Capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other force in the history of the world. We were fortunate to meet the entrepreneurial Young African Leadership Initiative scholar Stanley Gitau Mburu, a graduate of the prestigious Mandela Fellowship, a program operated by the Department of State. Mr. Mburu owns Big Kuku, a chicken farming and processing company that applies the industry-leading practices he learned while living in Iowa during his fellowship.
An estimated 85% of Kenya’s workforce is employed in the “unofficial economy,” which is ripe for corruption. Only 15% have stable jobs that pay taxes. Big Kuku now contracts with 90 small-holder farms, each employing an average of seven people.
America’s investment in Mr. Mburu has paid off. There are now more than 600 Kenyans who are less likely to become radicalized and turn to Al-Shabaab for sustenance and dignity.
This effort also stands in stark contrast with China Inc.’s attempt to put him out of business.
When asked about his biggest challenge, Mr. Mburu said, “China Square,” a new shopping mall built and operated by the Chinese, that has, in his words, “put a lot of local businesses out of business.”
Our follow-up question was, “What do your peers think of your experience in America?” His answer “They love America.” This simple statement showed how many people worldwide still think highly of the U.S. and that we have the potential to provide immense hope for them.
We also observed the positive effect of targeted aid in times of crisis, like what is happening in Sudan. The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, which currently hosts more than 270,000 refugees, sees around 1,200 new entrants each week, many of whom come from Sudan. These people must be fed, healed, and given a second chance at life outside their war-torn country.
Additionally, we witnessed the powerful work of the World Food Programme (WFP), which the U.S. contributes annually. This organization supplies nourishment for the refugees at Kakuma — not only malnourished children, which we saw but also the young boys and men who are targets of Al-Shabab.
The U.S. provided more than $7 billion to the WFP globally last year, much of which is in the form of maize and other commodities grown in America’s heartland.
To contextualize our investment, China’s contribution to the WFP was $12 million, less than 2% of what the U.S. provides. This pittance leaves us wondering if leaving so many people in extreme poverty and vulnerable to radical ideologies is somehow in China’s interest. Considering this question, it was rewarding to see bags of corn labeled “From the American People” utilized to care for these vulnerable populations.
Our final takeaway is that international trade and investment between Kenya and the U.S. is making a meaningful impact. This was evident at our visit to MAS Intimates in Nairobi, a factory that produces clothing for notable U.S. retailers.
Thanks to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which reduces tariffs on textiles imported into the U.S., the factory employs 3,500 Kenyans. These employees are Kenyans who are now less likely to join Al-Shabaab and who are helping diversify our supply chains away from China. This facility is a glaring indication that China’s dominance as the “world’s factory floor” may be waning.
And now, with a U.S.-Kenya trade agreement on the horizon, we anticipate more companies looking to Africa to produce the everyday goods consumed in America.
To summarize, we both are committed to keeping America out of prolonged conflicts across the world. Our “soft power” toolkit effectively protects Americans without putting our servicemen and women in harm’s way. Kenya is one of many case studies on how we are effectively implementing this strategy worldwide.
American leadership abroad protects our interests at home.
- Stephen Yates serves as Chair of the China Policy Initiative at America First Policy Institute. He was the president of Radio Free Asia and a White House deputy national security advisor (2001–2005). Luke J. Lindberg is a Senior Fellow with the America First Policy Institute and President & CEO of South Dakota Trade.
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