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Kenya likely to be spared deep cuts in US assistance

NEW YORK CITY

Kenya appears likely to be spared deep cuts in US assistance despite President Donald Trump’s budget proposals aimed at slashing many international aid programmes.

The spending outline the White House issued on Thursday seeks to regauge US relations with the developing world. It reduces reliance on the “soft power” of diplomacy and aid, and puts emphasis on the “hard power” of military might.

To bring about this sharp shift, Mr Trump is seeking an increase of $54 billion (10 per cent) in Pentagon funding and a decrease of $17 billion (31 per cent) in State Department allocations. He also wants steep but unspecified reductions in US contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations and a UN programme intended to mitigate the effects of climate change in developing countries.

The magnitude of the envisioned cuts will probably be scaled down significantly as Congress fashions the actual US budget for the fiscal year that begins in October. Some key members of Mr Trump’s own Republican Party have already voiced opposition to his attempt to reorient US international policy.

Lindsey Graham, a conservative senator influential in debates on US global posture, described the president’s budget plan as “dead on arrival” in Congress.

Many of the proposed programme reductions and eliminations in Mr Trump’s document are “draconian, careless and counterproductive” said Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, a member of a budget-making committee. Describing US foreign policy as consisting of both military and diplomatic elements, Mr Rogers declared: “We can’t afford to dismantle the diplomatic half of that equation”.

OFFERS GUARANTEE

The plan the White House sketched offers a guarantee of stable US funding for only one country: Israel. It lacks details on aid amounts for all other countries. But the guiding principles cited in the Thursday outline suggest that Kenya will not be targeted for a painful loss of US aid – and might even receive greater assistance than under President Obama.

The White House said its budget plan “refocuses economic and development assistance to countries of greatest strategic importance to the US”. And there is little doubt that Kenya qualifies as one of those countries.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Kenya ranked as the top recipient of US foreign aid in sub-Saharan Africa in the 2015 fiscal year. Kenya’s sum of $739 million was much smaller than the outlays for the top five beneficiaries – Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan – but larger than the amounts given to other key US African allies, including Nigeria ($692 million), Ethiopia ($650 million) and Tanzania ($647 million).

Kenya’s “strategic importance” to Washington is mainly a product of the counter-terrorism role it plays in Somalia, along with its comparatively stable governance and economic leadership in East Africa.

Depending on how aggressive the US becomes in its efforts to eliminate al-Shabaab, Kenya might get additional military assistance from the Trump administration.

‘SOFT POWER’

Substantial elements of “soft power” funding for Kenya have already been deemed secure.

The initial budget plan includes a pledge to continue full US funding of the anti-Aids initiative known as Pepfar (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) that has saved the lives of thousands of Kenyans. Mr Trump is also calling for undiminished US contributions to the multilateral Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria that has so far invested $862 million in Kenyan health programmes.

Mr Trump’s budget outline does not bode entirely well for Kenya, however.

The proposal contains ambiguous language on US food aid for hungry parts of the world, such as East Africa. Mr Trump says humanitarian assistance would “focus funding on the highest-priority areas while asking the rest of the world to pay their fair share”. That could translate into cuts in US spending for hunger relief.

The White House specifically urges elimination of one US government initiative that directly benefits some Kenyans. Mr Trump singles out the African Development Foundation that uses $1.4 million of its $30 million total budget to promote food security and agriculture initiatives in Turkana County.

Also on the Trump chopping block is a child nutrition and education programme that directs surplus US food commodities to school feeding and maternal health projects in poor countries. The budget document states that this programme “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity”.

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