Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 78 : The Politics of Africom

U.S. Military Activities in Kenya

December 2007

Once President George Bush’s special envoy to the Kenyan crisis, Jendayi Fraser (US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs) has admitted that the elections in Kenya were seriously flawed (a polite way of saying they are fraudulent) and ordered President Mwai Kibaki to meet the opposition leader, Raile Odinga, it was easy for the corporate Western media to forget that the United States Ambassador in Kenya only weeks earlier had declared the elections free and fair. Bush and Fraser’s hands were pushed by the emerging evidence that the elections were illegitimate and that the violence, on both sides, had been orchestrated.1 Maintaining a lopsided alliance with the Kibaki government would not be so easy in the glare of public opinion, now cast briefly on the Kenyan nation, and so we saw a total flip-flop in US policy.

But neither position is contradictory as the US is heavily invested in stability in Kenya.

Kenya has long been a key military partner of the United States and a major African recipient of U.S. military assistance. This strong Western loyalty starts in Kenya’s settler-colonial roots. Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta famously promised close allegiance with Great Britain before the former colonial power agreed to release him from jail and grant independence with him and his party cleared to take the helm. This neo-colonial relationship shifted during the Cold War to a closer Kenyatta/US relationship which was cemented by his successor, Daniel arap Moi, in 1978. So close was this relationship that Moi’s tenure as a ruthless one-party dictator – replete with political detention, publicly acknowledged torture facilities in Nyayo House [the seat of KANU party rule and the largest skyscraper in Nairobi], and quasi-open assassination of political rivals2 – was characterized by republican and democratic US governments alike as a stable democracy and a reliable trading partner.

US military assistance was indirectly present and crucial to the maintenance of the Moi regime and its domestic suppression of opposition and multiple party politics, most notably in 1992 when the government was implicated in fomenting ethnic violence to destabilize the country, sabotage the elections, and legitimize authoritarian rule. Kenya also played a crucial role in US-sponsored Cold War regional geopolitics, and continues to do so in the War-on-Terror era today. When opposition party politics finally resulted in Mwai Kibaki of the NARC coalition being elected in 2002, the US gradually reoriented its relationship with Kenya, tentative at first, but gradually resuming its patron-client trajectory in recent years.

This can be seen in recently uncovered weapons trade statistics, which have now returned to and surpassed Moi-era levels. The Pentagon gave Kenya $1.6 million worth of weaponry and other military assistance in 2006, and an estimated $2.5 million in 2007, through its Foreign Military Sales Program. In 2008, the Bush Administration expects to provide Kenya with $800,000 in Foreign Military Financing Program funds to pay for further arms purchases. Kenya has also been permitted to make large arms deals directly with private American arms producers through the State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales Program. Kenya took delivery of $1.9 million worth of arms this way in 2005, got an estimated $867,000 worth in 2007, and is expected to receive another $3.1 million worth this year.

In addition, the Bush Administration intends to spend $550,000 in 2008 to train Kenyan military officers in the United States through the International Military Education and Training Program at military academies and other military educational institutions in the United States.

The United States is also providing training and equipment to Kenya’s military, internal security, and police forces via several global and regional programs. These include, the:

• The East Africa Counter-Terrorism Initiative established in 2003 as a multi-year program with $100 million in funding to provide training to Kenya as well as to Uganda, Tanzania, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

• The Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) Program was created in 1983—under the administration of the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security—to provide training, equipment, and technology to countries all around the world to support their participation in the US’s Global War on Terrorism. The largest ATA program in Africa is targeted at Kenya, where it helped created the Kenyan Antiterrorism Police Unit (KAPU) in 2004 to conduct anti-terrorism operations, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2004 to coordinate anti-terrorism activities (although the unit was disbanded by the Kenyan government in 2005), and is now training and equipping members of a multi-agency, coast guard-type unit to patrol Kenya’s coastal waters. Between 2003 and 2005 (the most recent years for which this information is available), ATA provided training both in Kenya and in the United States to 454 Kenyan police, internal security, and military officers. Much like School of the Americas trained troops and officers in Latin America, these [in part] US-trained forces in Kenya were deployed against their own civilians during the post-elections violence and electoral controversy in early 2008, discussed further below.(3)

The creation of the KAPU was financed with $10 million in 2003, along with $622,000 from ATA; the ATA spent $21 million on training for Kenya in 2004, $3.5 in 2005, and another $3.2 in 2006. The Bush administration requested $2.9 for 2007 and an additional $5.5 in 2008.

• The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) was created in October 2002 to conduct naval and aerial patrols in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the eastern Indian Ocean as part of the effort to detect and counter the activities of terrorist groups in the region. The CJTF-FOA used military facilities in Kenya as well as in Djibouti and Ethiopia to launch air and naval strikes against alleged al-Qaeda members involved in the Council of Islamic Courts in Somalia in January and June of 2007. The Kenyan port of Mombasa is central to US naval operations in East Africa, and is believed to have been involved in the US missile strike against suspected terrorists in Somalia on March 2nd, when one or more Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from a US naval submarine into a remote area of southern Somalia on the border with Kenya.4

In addition, the Bush administration has negotiated base access agreements with the government of Kenya—along with the governments of Gabon, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Namibia, Sao Tome, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia—that will allow American troops to use their military facilities (known as Cooperative Security Locations and Forward Operating Sites) whenever the United States wants to deploy its own troops in Africa.

Since 2002, the Bush Administration has built a close military relationship with the government of Mwai Kibaki and has played a central role in the creation of the very internal security apparatus that was deployed with such bloody results throughout Kenya. In the midst of the worst of the post-election violence, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the acclaimed Kenyan writer and activist whose latest novel, The Wizard of the Crow, allegorically foretold many of these events, presciently stated: “Ethnic cleansing is often instigated by the political elite of one community against another community. It is premeditated – often on order from political warlords.” He then went on to locate such premeditation in both the government and the opposition, and called for external investigations.5

The United States, thus has a direct responsibility for the post-election violence in Kenya during the beginning of 2008, and for bringing it to an end. Jendayi Frazer certainly surprised many outside the US with her reconciliatory comments, but one can be sure that she also has US military priorities in mind when she urged Kenyans to end the violence. In the end, the US role was less in finding the path to peace than in containing and waiting the conflict out so its business as usual could resume with whichever government of, by and for the elite emerged. The use of divide-and-conquer government-fomented ethnic violence has rarely stopped the United States from building its alliances in Africa or the rest of the world.


1. Jeffrey Gettleman, “Signs in Kenya that Killings were planned,” New York Times, January 21, 2008.
2. David William Cohen and E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, The Risks of Knowledge: Investigations into the Death of the Hon. Minister John Robert Ouko in Kenya, 1990, Ohio University Press, 2004.
3. Amnesty International Condemns Lethal Force by Police in Kenya; Death Toll in Protests Rises to 12, Press Release, Amnesty International, January 18, 2008.
4. Pauline Jelinek, “US Strikes Somali Town, Targets al-Qaida,” Associated Press, March 3, 2008.
5. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, “Nhugi Laments Kenya Violence,” BBC News, January 10, 2008, accessed at: