The US has given Kenya $400 million in counterterrorism aid over the last decade, a new report has shown, placing the country’s security agencies among Africa’s top beneficiaries of successive support by Washington.
According to the US Congressional Research Service, a public policy research institute of the United States Congress, the US Department of Defence has provided roughly $400 million (about Ksh40.4 billion) in counterterrorism aid to Kenya to help fight terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab.
The think tank, however, notes that aid from the US has been marred by allegations of human rights abuses committed by the security agencies.
“Allegations of abuses by Kenyan security forces have posed challenges for security co-operation,” said Lauren Ploch Blanchard, a specialist in African Affairs with the US Congressional Research Service, in a new research note published on January 16. “Kenya is nevertheless routinely the top sub-Saharan recipient of US anti-terrorism assistance for law enforcement”.
According to her, the money given to Kenya was mainly used to “train and equip” the military. Kenya does not make public its national security expenditure and receipts of foreign security aid and only Parliament is mandated to scrutinise expenditure by key security organs.
The public disclosures by the US body, which serves as a nonpartisan think tank to US congressional committees and members of the US Congress, therefore provide a rare glimpse into the breadth of co-operation between Kenya and the US in combating terrorism.
Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, has in recent years suffered attacks by A-Shabaab, who are demanding the withdrawal of its troops from the Horn of Africa nation. Al-Shabaab has been attacking the Somali government and military targets, but occasionally launches high-profile assaults in neighbouring states, including Kenya.
The latest high profile attack by the al-Qaeda-affiliated group was at the heavily guarded joint US-Kenya base on Manda Bay in Lamu mid this month. The attack focused fresh attention on the potent threat posed by Al-Shabaab.
Following the attack, the US military vowed to help Kenya double down on fighting the group. The US military is expected to outline new steps it will take together with its allies like Kenya to contain Al-Shabaab when US Africa Command General Stephen Townsend testifies later this month before the US Congress about the security situation in Africa. He is expected to face tough questions about the Kenyan attack, analysts said earlier.
The attacked military site supports US operations in Somalia, where Al-Shabaab militants have carried out attacks for more than a decade.
In 2017, the US Embassy in Nairobi said the US had donated over Ksh11.5 billion ($115 million) in military equipment and assistance to the Kenyan military in that year alone.
It made the announcement in July that year after the Kenyan Air Force received two of eight Bell Huey II helicopters donated by the US military. The helicopters – six delivered in December 2016 and two in 2017 – represented the largest security co-operation programme by the US in sub-Saharan Africa, the embassy said then.
“The Huey II helicopters will bolster the KDF’s capacity to combat Al-Shabaab, an effort that will bring more stability and peace to East Africa,” said former US Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec at the time.
The helicopters were billed to have the exceptional capacity to operate in hot and high-elevation environments, while being rugged enough to endure extended operations with minimal maintenance.
In 2018, the US government gave the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) 12 Bastion Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) to improve border surveillance. At the time, the US Defence Attaché, Colonel Kevin Balisky, said that the APCs would support KDF’s efforts in the fight against the extremists, who often use improvised explosive devices (IED), in the northern Kenya border region.
The US government currently provides nearly Sh100 billion in annual assistance to Kenya for a number of programmes, including health care, agriculture, education and security.
In addition to the increased capacity from US military aid, Kenya has consistently upgraded its military hardware in recent years, with Nairobi’s arms orders stoking fears of an arms race in the region.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration raised its spending on the armed forces to Ksh114.2 billion ($1.14 billion) in 2018 to stand above neighbouring Ethiopia and Uganda combined, Nan Tian, a researcher on arms and military expenditure programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told the Business Daily earlier.
Kenya’s military was on course last December to receive six new US-made light attack helicopter gunships as part of an initial order of 12 light attack and reconnaissance helicopters.
The acquisitions signalled Mr Kenyatta’s resolve to continue upgrading the Kenyan military’s capabilities despite the government’s recent push for austerity. The planes were part of the $253 million (Ksh25 billion) arms deal that Nairobi signed with Washington, which got US approval in May 2017.
America’s Defence Security Co-operation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement then that the purchase by Kenya would go towards helping the country to “modernise its rotorcraft fleet in order to improve border security, undertake operations against Somali-based jihadist group, Al-Shabaab, and as a troop contributor to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).”