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Employment.png US/Ambassador/Kenya 
(Ambassador to Kenya)
Kenya USA Locator.png

StartFebruary 20, 1964
Steadily more important position in a strategic country

Kenya has traditionally been in the sphere of influence of Great Britain, its former colonial master, which enjoyed, and still enjoys, extensive privileges in the country.

But Kenya and the United States have been steadily closer allies and have enjoyed cordial relations since Kenya's independence, in no small part to active CIA meddling. For example, future promising politicians were groomed for power, including Barack Obama's father.

Other pull factors were the stronger US economic power, and its ability to provide more military aid and training to its armed forces.

Relations became even closer after Kenya's democratic transition of 2002 and subsequent improvements in human rights, also in no small part to Western regime changes through extensive funding of NGO front organizations.

This was preceded by sometimes frosty interludes during President Moi's regime when the two countries often clashed over bad governance issues, resulting in aid suspension and many diplomatic rows. Following the election of the new government of Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013, relations somewhat took a dip when the new president forged a new foreign policy looking east away from traditional western allies.

Kenya–United States relations have been cemented through cooperation against Islamist terrorism (networks that are known to a large extent to be working as proxies for the CIA), and a visit by President Obama to Kenya, which is the homeland of his father.

In a 2013 BBC World Service poll, 69% of Kenyans view U.S. influence positively, with 11% viewing U.S. influence negatively.[1]



After Kenya's independence on 12 December 1963, the United States immediately recognized the new nation.[2] However, it was not until 2 March 1964 that diplomatic relations were established with William Atwood establishing the U.S. Embassy at Nairobi.[2] The United States also provided the fledgling nation with $21 million in funds and technical aid, with Kenya seeking more loans from the United States.[3]

The United States soon found itself invested in Kenyan politics due to the power struggle between Tom Mboya and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.[4] The United States had identified Mboya as a promising client since the 1950s, and sought to empower him in the new administration instead of the more leftist Odinga.[4] The United States was successful, and Mboya also began wooing Kenya's prime minister Jomo Kenyatta into becoming more favorable to the United States (as opposed to Britain) and the CIA.[4]

Cold War

After Odinga's fall from power, Kenya found itself squarely in the Western bloc during the Cold War period.[5] Despite being one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, Soviet ideals never gained traction in post-independence Kenya, meaning that there was little to no jockeying between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in this region.[5] This meant there was little need for Kenya and United States relations, since the United States took Kenyan support for granted.[5]

However, the 1980s saw Kenya become more involved in Cold War politics. After Jomo Kenyatta's death, the new president of Kenya Daniel arap Moi sought to further strengthen relations with the United States[5] Moi joined the United States' Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, allowing for the construction of United States military installations in Kenya.[5] The most notable development of this military construction was allowing United States naval access to Mombasa, which resulted in the United States paying Kenya $26 million.[6]

Democratization Era

Good relations, however, fell into jeopardy with the deteriorating civil rights picture in Kenya. In 1987, the chairman of the Congress subcommittee on Africa, Michigan congressman Howard Wolpe, accused Daniel arap Moi of bankrolling criminals and committing human rights abuses.[7] The issue was then placed on the agenda for Ronald Reagan's talks with Moi, but nothing came of it at this time.[8] In 1991, however, the United States joined with a coalition of other nations who gave financial assistance to Kenya to pressure for reforms.[9] In a 1991 meeting in Paris, Kenya's aid donors insisted on ending corruption and human rights abuses, threatening to pull their aid.[9] These concerns caused the United States to suspend its aid in 1992.[10][11][12]

The United States reacted positively to the Kenyan elections of 2000, the first democratic transition of power in Kenya's history.[13] The new president, Mwai Kibaki was honored as the first African head of state to be invited to Washington D.C. for a state visit.[13]

War on Terror

On 7 August 1998, al Qaeda terrorists detonated a car bomb outside the United States embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, leaving 200 dead and thousands wounded.[14] The immediate aftermath strained relations between the United States and Kenya, as Kenyans felt that the United States only cared about the Americans who lost their lives, not the Kenyans.[15] The situation was worsened when the American ambassador, Prudence Bushnell, implied that Kenyans were attempting to loot the embassy.[15]

However, since that event, the Kenyan and U.S. governments have intensified cooperation to address all forms of insecurity in Kenya, including terrorism.[16] The United States provides equipment and training to Kenyan security forces, both civilian and military. In its dialog with the Kenyan Government, the United States urges effective action against corruption and insecurity as the two greatest impediments to Kenya achieving sustained, rapid economic growth.[17]

Following the September 11th attacks, Kenya was designated as a frontline in the United States' Global War on Terror.[18] Kenya's National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) received a list of two hundred suspects linked to Al-Qaeda in late September 2001.[19] Following Al-Qaeda attacks in Mombasa in 2002, new president Mwai Kibaki created the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit to further counter-terror operations.[19] The United States Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program provided training to 500 Kenyan security officers in the United States (thereby creating a cadre for future coups) and many more in East Africa training locations.[16]

The United States also sunk large amounts of money into non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Kenya.[20] This was part of an overall emphasis placed on international NGOs during the War on Terror that saw United States funding to NGOs increase by billions.[20] However, this particularly affected Kenya due to the high quantity of aid the United States sends to Kenya.[20] This period also saw a "blurring of lines" in regards to NGOs, as it became more common for NGOs in Kenya to work with military officials in the United States Department of Defense.

Even as Kibaki cooperated, relations suffered due to the United States' perceived "obsession" with the War on Terror and concerns that alignment with the United States led to domestic terrorism.[13] Kenyan policymakers feared that while the United States had encouraged democratization, they ceased to encourage democracy during the War on Terror.[13] International organizations said American policy is pushing Kenya to discriminate against its Muslim population.[21]

Another key aspect of the War on Terror was that American aid to Kenya became even more politicized and "securitized."[20] During this period, The United States heavily tied USAID support directly to military and counterterror operations undertaken by the Kenyan Defense Forces.[22] The United States also demonstrated a willingness to play hardball, sometimes threatening to cut aid if Kenya does not support United States foreign policy on the international level.[13]

Nonetheless, Kenya continues to back counter-terror operations in exchange for financial support.[23]

Modern Era

The United States became a talking point during Kenya's 2007 elections, as some believed they were supporting Raila Odinga as retaliation for Kibaki reducing Kenyan dependence on the United States. Following the violence caused by Kenya's 2007 elections, the United States and other Western nations pressured Kenya to create tribunals to punish those responsible for the violence.[24] The United States initially threatened to pull its aid unless the violence was addressed, but political will for such a step waned throughout the year.[24] The tribunals were never established, but the United States was satisfied by the peaceful elections in 2013.[24]

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 was greeted with great optimism from Kenya, who felt pride in him due to his Kenyan father.[25] His Africa policy was based on four pillars—promoting democracy, managing conflicts, strengthening the economy, and providing access to education.[25] That said, he also continued many of President George W. Bush's policies, particularly in counterterrorism.[25] President Obama was also the first sitting president to visit Kenya.[26]

The election of Barack Obama also brought back international discourse regarding Kenya's Mau Mau uprising, as Obama's father had been interned by the British for his Mau Mau alignment.[27] While this was a non-issue in Kenya, it put some domestic pressure on Obama to distance himself from his Kenyan heritage.[27] However, Barack Obama has always been explicit that Kenya should expect no favors from him due to his heritage.[27] Despite concerns regarding favoritism, the Obama administration did not take a more active role in Kenyan politics like some expected.[27]

The Obama era also saw U.S. assistance to Kenya grew "exponentially," as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) put in a 2012 document. The number of USAID projects had grown significantly enough for the agency to justify hiring additional contractors to help it manage its Kenyan program portfolio. A Statement of Work for the support initiative acknowledged that "the level of U.S.-financed Kenyan operations has outpaced Washington's ability to adequately manage it."[28] Additionally, USAID has faced academic criticism for backing projects that mostly benefit the rich of the Kenya.[29]

The 2013 elections in Kenya brought controversy due to the words of the United States Assistant Secretary of State at the time, Johnnie Carson.[24] While not endorsing a candidate, he stated that "actions have consequences," implying opposition to the challenger, Uhuru Kenyatta.[24] The Kenyatta presidency was notably cold towards the United States prior to the terrorist attack on Kenya's Westgate mall.[24] The terrorist attack led to more cooperation, as Kenya focused more on counterterror operations.[24]

The 2016 election of President Donald Trump did not bring similar enthusiasm to Kenyans.[26] He also stirred controversy by referring to Kenya as a "shithole" country.[30] Despite that, it was found that Kenyans have much more confidence in President Trump than most of the world, likely due to Kenya's overall pro-American views.[31]


An Office Holder on Wikispooks

William Harrop10 July 19801 September 1983


  2. a b ttps://
  4. a b c Munene, G. Macharia (1992). "Reviewed Work(s): United States of America's Foreign Policy Toward Kenya, 1952 – 1969 by P. Godfrey". Transafrican Journal of History. 21: 187–192.
  5. a b c d e
  6. Mangi, Lutfullah (1987). "Us Military Bases in Africa". Pakistan Horizon. 40 (2): 95–102.
  8. Widner, Jennifer A. (1992). The Rise of a Party-State in Kenya: From "Harambee!" to "Nyayo!". University of California Press. pp. 202–203.
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  13. a b c d e Barkan, Joel D. (2004). "Kenya after Moi". Foreign Affairs. 83 (1): 87–100.
  15. a b
  16. a b Journal of Criminology
  18. Mogire, Edward; Mkutu Agade, Kennedy (October 2011). "Counter-terrorism in Kenya". Journal of Contemporary African Studies. 29 (4): 473–491.
  19. a b Prestholdt, Jeremy (2011). "Kenya, the United States, and Counterterrorism". Africa Today. 57 (
  20. a b c d Ball, Samantha (2015). "U.S., Kenya, and the Global War on Terror: Exploring the impact of shifting U.S. aid policies on NGOs". Indiana University
  21. Lyman, Princeton. "The War on Terrorism in Africa". Council on Foreign Relations.
  22. Miles, William F. S. (2012). "Deploying Development to Counter Terrorism: Post-9/11 Transformation of U.S. Foreign Aid to Africa". African Studies Review. 55 (3): 27–60.
  24. a b c d e f g Brown, Stephen (January 2014). "Dire consequences or empty threats? Western pressure for peace, justice and democracy in Kenya". Journal of Eastern African Studies. 8: 43–62
  25. a b c
  26. a b
  27. a b c d Carotenutu, Matthew. Obama and Kenya: Contested Histories and the Politics of Belonging.