Antony Blinken: Security operations must be within the law

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) with Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo at Serena Hotel in Nairobi on November 17, 2021.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Visiting United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday pressed for assurances to end enforced disappearances, saying security operations must be guided by the law.

Mr Blinken addressed a press conference after a meeting with civil society groups in Nairobi.

He was with Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Raychelle Omamo, with whom he announced continued US-Kenya cooperation in security, post-pandemic recovery, global warming, governance among other areas.

Mr Blinken’s visit came as the country prepares for the General Election next year and incessant security challenges, including prison breaks, banditry and terrorism.

“We want to partner with the Kenyan government and the civil society to ensure the rule of law and human rights are safeguarded even when addressing legitimate security concerns,” the US Secretary of State told the joint media briefing.

“That is how to build public trust in public institutions.”

At an earlier meeting with activists, the top US envoy heard concerns on recent incidents in which a freed terrorism convict and his lawyer were abducted.

The lawyer – Prof Hassan Nandwa – was later found dumped in Mwingi, Kitui county, while his client Elgiva Bwire is yet to be traced.

Several other people have been kidnapped and freed in mysterious circumstances, including Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a researcher.

“We discussed ways we can work together to address shared challenges, as democracy requires active citizen participation,” Mr Blinken said.

After a second Strategic Bilateral Dialogue, the second formal meeting between the two countries since elevating their relations to a “partnership”, they agreed human rights and good governance need to be protected.

“Kenya and the United States affirmed that free and fair elections are the foundation of a robust democracy and are paramount to the protection and advancement of human rights and individual freedom,” a joint communiqué said.

“The two countries underscored their commitment to fostering accountable and effective public institutions and to addressing governance, fiscal transparency and accountability challenges.”

Kenya and the United States have considered their ties as a “partnership”, rather than mere bilateral relations since 2018.

They created five pillars to guide the relation – economic issues, security and defence, governance, human rights and health.

Though climate change was not initially part of the pillars, Ms Omamo said Kenya and the US would implement the programmes with an eye on conservation.

“Our two countries have an opportunity to work together on adaptation measures, including addressing the climate financing gap,” the Foreign Affairs CS said.

The joint communiqué said the two sides accept the “importance of environmental protection and commit to cooperate bilaterally and multilaterally in providing institutional support and building capacity for environmental conservation, climate change, food security, weather monitoring and implementing multilateral environment agreements”.

The US said it provided $560 million in assistance to Kenya for peace and security “partnership” and another $8.7 million for governance and human rights programmes last year.

Ahead of 2022 elections though, Mr Blinken said Kenya should ensure participation of stakeholders to avoid mistakes that led to violence in the past.

“It is critical that all parties – the government, the opposition and civil society – work together to ensure safe and civil elections that reflect the will of the people,” he said.

President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing a conference on democracy later this month in Washington – his first signature event that could directly rope in civil society groups and discuss the plight of the continent.

But Mr Blinken suggested strong governments would be needed as well.

He had earlier met President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House where they spoke on “regional peace and security, and explored new opportunities for collaboration in resolving conflicts and achieving sustainable peace in the Horn of Africa”, according to State House.

The Secretary of State’s trip to Africa had always been see in terms of regional crises in the Horn, especially the Ethiopian war and the Sudan transitional challenge.

Mr Blinken and Ms Omamo said they expect to make moves in having the Ethiopian government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and other armed groups reach a permanent ceasefire.

“President Kenyatta believes our neighbours have the potential for peace,” Ms Omamo said.

Mr Blinken said true peace in Ethiopia should come “from talks by all parties who have grievances”.

The joint communiqué said Kenya and the US “reiterate the importance for the government of Ethiopia, the TPLF and all armed actors involved in the conflict to commit to an immediate cessation of hostilities and a negotiated ceasefire.”

The TPLF has been battling government forces since November 2020.


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