Kenya looks to Algeria for answers to insecurity (Africa Review)

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta last week made his maiden trip to North Africa, meeting with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Prime Minister Abdel Malek Sellal and other senior officials.

Since taking office nearly two years ago, President Kenyatta has concentrated on cultivating strong ties with the Gulf states.

The President has already made official visits to Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey and Qatar where he signed multi-billion dollar deals in oil and gas, infrastructure and energy projects.

During the visit, President Kenyatta officiated the opening of Kenya’s first embassy in Algiers and announced plans for both countries to lift visa restrictions for the holders of diplomatic passports.

The two countries also signed cooperation agreements in oil, gas and energy, including onshore and offshore exploration and production of hydrocarbons.

They also agreed to work closely on security challenges facing the continent even appealing to the international community to help mitigate the unfolding humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, where

out two million people are now internally displaced.

Kenya has been actively seeking investors for its emerging oil and gas sector.

In Algeria, President Kenyatta sees a country flush with petro-dollars and experience in managing oil windfalls. The country’s oil industry is one of the biggest in the world.

According to Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), Algeria’s oil and natural gas export revenues amounted to almost $63.8 billion in 2013. Its foreign exchange reserves reached $194 billion by the end of December 2013.

The sector accounts for 60 per cent of the budget, 30 per cent of GDP and over 95 per cent of export earnings.

Oil resources

Algeria has the 10th largest reserves of natural gas in the world and is the sixth largest gas exporter. It ranks 16th in oil reserves. Algeria’s oil production stands at 1.875 million barrels a day.

“As Kenya looks forward to commercial exploitation of its oil resources, we look forward to learning from Algeria’s expertise,” said Kenya’s Foreign Secretary Amina Mohamed.

An upbeat President Kenyatta said the new partnership was expected to deepen and cover a wider range of issues.

“Our governments will work much closer to set up a joint commission for cooperation between our two countries,” according to a statement from President Kenyatta’s office.

“We will be meeting at ministerial and other levels to compare notes and ensure that the discussions bear fruit.”

While President Kenyatta’s trip focussed less on big policy announcements, his choice of Algeria as his first official trip to North Africa could not escape the notice of foreign policy analysts.

“It makes sense why Kenya and Algeria would want to strengthen ties The country is now emerging as the pivotal state in North Africa,” says Macharia Munene, a professor of international relations at Nairobi’s United States International University.

Algeria has long been perceived as a significant regional powerhouse. But it’s perceived importance has risen in the last few years after the geopolitical shift in the Middle East prompted by the Arab Spring.

“With Egypt and Libya in crisis, Algeria, which has long held regional ambitions, emerged to fill the vacuum left by the two hegemons,” Prof Munene told The EastAfrican.

Kenya’s political and economic links with North Africa were also disrupted when the wave of revolutions in the Arab world swept through its key ally Libya.

Political instability

As a result, Kenya was trying to firm up its links in the region by expanding ties with other key players. But relations with Libya were not always rosy.

Former President Daniel Moi severed ties with Tripoli in 1987 over allegations that Muammar Gaddafi’s regime was training dissidents to overthrow his administration.

Diplomatic relations only resumed in 1998, and they gradually improved under former President Mwai Kibaki’s administration to the point where Libya became one of the largest FDI partners for Kenya.

Last year, Kenya announced that it would close its embassy in Libya because of continuing political instability.

While the country still has an embassy in Egypt, the political situation there remains unstable. Much of the country’s diplomatic engagements in North Africa will likely be channelled through the Algiers embassy.

Also, the similarities between Kenya and Algeria would naturally see them gravitate towards each other, Prof Munene told The EastAfrican.

oth countries were symbols of the British and French colonial resistance in Africa in the 1950s. They are also aspiring regional powers faced with the threat of violent religious extremists.

President Kenyatta said his visit would help his country “benefit from Algerian experience in combating terrorism”.

Access to weapons

“Algeria is facing security challenges emanating from Libya and Mali, while Kenya is experiencing a similar situation from unstable Somalia and South Sudan,” the President said.

Within Algeria al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) remains the most active security threat.

AQIM has attacked Algerian security forces, government targets and Westerners in the Sahel, operating primarily in the mountainous areas east of Algiers and in the expansive desert regions near Algeria’s southern border.

The security situation in Libya, Mali and Tunisia also gravely concerns Algeria.

With weak security institution, jihadist fighters have ready access to weapons and the long porous borders provide violent extremists with opportunities distabilise North Africa.

These security concerns have forced Algeria to push its defence budget to over $10 billion to patrol the expansive borders it shares with Libya, Mali and Tunisia.

The fear that terrorist groups in Africa could be collaborating and borrowing tactics from each other has seen frontline states commit to sharing intelligence on the activities of Al Shabaab, al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and Boko Haram.

President Kenyatta sees Algiers as a Key player in the war on terror and his trip sought to set a foundation for closer collaboration on security issues. After his closed door meeting with President Bouteflika, President Kenyatta said they agreed to share more intelligence and forge “stronger defence, security and economic partnerships”.

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