Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy Nairobi
QUESTION: Kenya is the first of three stops of the African tour being made by the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and here in Nairobi, a range of issues on the agenda, from democracy to defense agreements and, of course, trade. At the conclusion of his visit, Secretary Blinken agreed to a few minutes of an interview with us here on Citizen.
Secretary Blinken, thank you very much, and welcome.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
QUESTION: Now, I’ve seen the five pillars the Strategic Dialogue between Kenya and the United States focused on. There is the big one, which is number one – that’s trade and economic prosperity. And down the line, no mention of the free trade agreement negotiations that were started by former President Donald Trump. Why is that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, to step back, look at the strength of the relationship as it now exists. We have about a billion dollars in annual trade between our countries, more than a billion dollars in remittances coming from Kenya to the United States back to Kenya. AGOA, the trade preference system, will be in effect until 2025. It gives preferential access to Kenya to the American market.
And at the same time, what we talked about a lot yesterday was the work we’re doing to ramp up our partnerships when it comes particularly to investment – investment in green technology, in green infrastructure, in communications, in hard infrastructure, but done in a sustainable way. We have new resources, new tools available in the United States to do that and to encourage private sector investment in Kenya, and that’s what we’re working on. At the same time, our U.S. Trade Administrator Katherine Tai continues to be in active discussions with her Kenyan counterparts on how to strengthen the trade relationship even more.
QUESTION: And the trade representative – you mentioned Katherine Tai – did receive a letter from seven U.S. senators who were asking the Biden administration to resume the talks on free trade – free trade agreement. Why have those talks not resumed?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, she is in conversations with her Kenyan counterparts, and I’ll make sure that – that’s her portfolio, so I want to leave it to her to discuss that, but she is in conversations with Kenyan counterparts. And at the same time, we’re working not only to take advantage of AGOA which, again, is in effect until 2025, but, as I said, to deepen the investment relationship. I think that’s a very powerful way of building a more inclusive economy, creating good jobs, well-paying jobs, and building the foundations for Kenya’s future.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, use this opportunity to clear the doubt of critics who think the Biden administration is not committed to a free trade agreement with Kenya.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re committed to deepening the economic relationship with Kenya across the board, whether it comes to trade, whether it comes to investment – which, again, I think, is particularly productive and particularly necessary at a time when Kenya and the United States together are focusing on things like green technology, on green infrastructure, on making sure that we’re – we have the right investments in communications technology and in physical infrastructure. All of these things were the focus of conversations that we had yesterday.
QUESTION: All right. Kenya is going to hold an election next year. We’re just about – just over nine months away. And one of the concerns and one of the issues that is in your agenda in the African tour is strengthening democracy.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: Your visit comes at a time when there is a decline in faith of voters in elections. We saw the experience that the United States itself had, and we have seen – even here in Kenya, the last three elections were heavily contested. In your view, what needs to be done to restore the faith of voters in elections, of a pillar of democracy?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think precisely because there’s been something of a democratic recession around the world as countries fall back, experience more and more challenges to democracy, including in the United States. And as we’ve seen, a lack of faith, a decrease in trust in institutions in democracy in countries around the world – there is an extraordinary opportunity here for Kenya, not only for the Kenyan people, but also actually to serve as a model for countries around the world with the elections.
And if the elections go forward in a free and fair and inclusive way with no violence and with genuine participation across the board, I think that sends a very powerful message. Of course, it’s, most important, the right thing to do for the Kenyan people, but it goes beyond Kenya. And so we talked about this as well in our conversations with our counterparts in the government, including with President Kenyatta, and the United States stands ready to support in any way that we can and that’s helpful to help make sure that the elections go forward in exactly that way. But I think the world will be looking to Kenya, and if Kenya sets a powerful example, it will resonate beyond Kenya.
QUESTION: Things have been evolving around elections. It’s no longer about the threat of violence. There are more complex issues around vote tallying, transmission of results, and questions that arise after that. And we saw that even with the U.S. election.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right, which is why strong, independent institutions are so critical, whether it’s election authorities, whether it’s the judicial system – which of course, in Kenya, is very strong – to make sure that there are objective, transparent checks and balances and processes in place to ensure that the mechanics of the elections are free and fair. That’s absolutely vital.
QUESTION: Secretary, I’m very sure you are aware that Ethiopia dominates as a topic of your tour. And one of the questions coming out of the Ethiopian conflict is the question of the neutrality of the U.S. Is the U.S. neutral in the conflict in Ethiopia?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we’re not neutral in the sense that we’re with the people of Ethiopia wherever they are. This is about Ethiopia. It’s not about a particular individual; it’s not about a particular region. It’s about the people of Ethiopia and the desire that they have for a democratic, peaceful future. And so we’re – no, we’re not taking sides; we don’t take sides.
We’re simply trying to do a few things to strongly support the efforts of former Nigerian President Obasanjo, who’s leading the mediation effort on behalf of the African Union, to work very closely and coordinate very closely with other leading figures who are involved in trying to move things to a better place, including President Kenyatta here in Kenya – in ourselves engaging with all the parties with some very clear objectives in mind: stop the fighting; to sit down and talk about putting in place a durable ceasefire; to make sure humanitarian assistance can flow and reach people who are desperately in need; and ultimately, to negotiate a political answer to the differences that have emerged over the last year; and certainly to avoid the violence, especially communal violence, which we’re increasingly concerned about; and, of course, to have people who have been detained released from jail.
That’s what we’re working toward, not in support of any one side but in support of Ethiopia, of its democracy, and of a future for its people that is peaceful and prosperous.
QUESTION: Are you confident with the leadership being provided by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in this situation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, this is, again, not about individual leaders. It is about the work that so many of us are doing in support of putting Ethiopia back on track. And we’ve engaged closely with Prime Minister Abiy. We’re in regular contact with him as the duly elected leader of Ethiopia. We’re in contact as well with all of the other parties to the conflict, including the TPLF and other groups. And again, our role, our responsibility is to support primarily the efforts of the AU, of President Obasanjo as he is working to bring people together to sit around the table, to stop the fighting, to get humanitarian assistance moving, and to negotiate a political solution, not – there is no military solution —
QUESTION: Right. Finally, Secretary —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — to the challenges —
QUESTION: Finally, Secretary, what is the specific rule – role you are looking for in terms of Kenya and the President Uhuru Kenyatta in this Ethiopian conflict?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, President Kenyatta is widely respected on all sides. And to the extent that he’s engaged in talking to the different parties and working also in support of what President Obasanjo is doing on behalf of the AU, I think that can be a very effective way of, again, moving people off of the battlefield and to the table to talk and stop fighting, and especially, again, get humanitarian assistance to people who so desperately need it throughout northern Ethiopia.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thank you for talking to Citizen TV.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.