US-Kenya Relations–a counterterrorism versus reform tradeoff?

Alex Thurston at Sahel Blog has an interesting post on “Concern over US-Kenya Relations” that is well worth a read, along with his linked opinion piece in the Guardian last fall and a current VOA report.

Certainly the US has been very inconsistent in terms of what its priorities are for the relationship with Kenya over the past four years. The decision on Ambassador Ranneberger’s replacement will be important, as was the mixed message associated with extending his term for a year for mid-2009 to mid-2010.

From my perspective a longer term view and consistency on reform would allow us to accomplish more both in combating potential terrorism and in helping Kenya toward better governance. To me, the vulnerability of Kenya in the security areas is very much linked to corruption and poor governance. Kenya is a money laundering center and a safe transit point for terrorists in some significant part because of the ability to buy protection through bribes, as well as to avoid detection and arrest and legal process due to weak governance.

Further, to the extent that you use tactics like “rendition” in conjunction with a government and security forces like those in Kenya, you are going to make some significant number of people afraid and alienated that are not otherwise in sympathy with terrorists. That’s just the reality and any expectation otherwise is foolish. Whether these kind of tactics are worth this kind of cost is the question–not how you can have it both ways.

Allow me to quote Defense Secretary Gates from his new Foreign Affairs piece, “Helping Others Defend Themselves: The Future of U.S. Security Assistance” [full text subscription-only], published yesterday:

The United States has made great strides in building up the operational capacity of its partners by training and mentoring them in the field. But there has not been enough attention paid to building the institutional capacity (such as defense ministries) or the human capital (including leadership skills and attitudes) needed to sustain security over the long term.

The United States now recognizes that the security sectors of at-risk countries are really systems of systems tying together the military, the police, the justice system, and other governance and oversight mechanisms. . . .

See “Corruption and Terrorism/Security”

In the Quicksands of Somalia | Foreign Affairs

In the Quicksands of Somalia | Foreign Affairs.

I highly recommend this article which I have referred to several friends.  The author was the program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy who worked with our Kenya program funding and I met her briefly on the way to Africa in June 2007.  From my perspective, she seems to have it right and I would simply add that the consequences of the US support for first the invasion by Ethiopia, and then the African Union force to try to uphold the Transitional Federal Government have included the US incurring debts to be paid to other governments in the region, including Kenya and Uganda.