Fears as Kenya break ranks with neutral East Africa for anti-Houthi bloc

While its Horn of Africa neighbors stick to their position of neutrality, Kenya has openly aligned itself with the US-led coalition against Yemen’s Houthi group.

The Houthis have been targeting shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November, saying the attacks are a response to Israel’s ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip.

The US set up a multinational force in December to counter the threat and has been carrying out strikes in Yemen against Houthi targets.

The coalition started off with 10 confirmed members, but the Pentagon and US President Joe Biden said later in December that more than 20 nations have agreed to take part.

Last week, the White House put out a joint statement endorsed by 23 nations, announcing new strikes against Houthi targets, condemning the Yemeni group and “those who supply the Houthis with the weapons to conduct these attacks.”

Among the signatories were just two African nations – Guinea-Bissau and Kenya.

For Kenya, analysts say the alignment with the US-led bloc is an outcome of recent visits by top American military leaders.

On Jan. 22, Gen. Michael Langley, head of US Africa Command, and Sgt. Maj. Michael Woods, the command’s senior enlisted leader, undertook a strategic visit to Nairobi.

This was after the Jan. 16 meeting between CIA Director William Burns and Kenyan President William Ruto.

While the details of these discussions remain undisclosed, Kenyan authorities hinted that they revolve around matters of regional security.

The Kenyan government and officials have been tight-lipped over the matter, with several Anadolu requests for comments met with silence.

‘Calculated move’

Analysts suggest that this strategic alignment not only reflects Kenya’s departure from its traditional neutral stance, but may also indicate a tacit show of support for Israeli actions in Gaza.

George Musamali, a prominent regional security expert in East Africa, stressed that Kenya has long stood with the US and its allies, particularly on the issue of Palestine.

“Kenya, as much as we talk about it being a non-aligned country, has always sided with the Israelis, the Americans and the UK, especially on this issue of the Palestinians and their independence,” he told Anadolu.

He said this longstanding allegiance has not been without consequences for Kenya, emphasizing that the country has “been hit directly … because of our union with the Israelis and the Americans when it comes to matters of security in the Middle East.”

He said the recent visit by the CIA chief was directly “directly linked to the war in the Middle East.”

“So, for Kenya, allying with the US and the Israelis is not a surprise because we’ve been taking that stand,” he added.

Midamba Noah, a foreign policy and diplomacy professor, views Kenya’s current stance “as a departure from its traditional neutral stance.”

However, he believes that this is “a calculated move to enhance its security and gain geopolitical leverage.”

“The Red Sea’s significance in global trade and energy routes is driving Kenya’s involvement. By supporting the anti-Houthi campaign, Kenya aims to safeguard its economic interests and assert influence in a region undergoing significant geopolitical shifts, potentially aligning with Israel’s concerns in the process,” he explained.

Public opinion

Kenya’s divergent stance in a largely neutral neighborhood has cast a shadow over regional unity and raised concerns among the public about the country’s own security.

“We need clarity on why Kenya is entangling itself in these conflicts. It affects us, and we deserve to know the reasons behind these decisions. Why is there so much secrecy?” Jane Mwangi, a Nairobi resident, told Anadolu.

David Kamau Njuguna, another citizen, echoed similar concerns.

“Our government needs to be transparent about its foreign policy choices, especially when it involves military alliances. We want to understand the implications for our nation and the East Africa region,” he said.

Analyst Musamali also pointed to the manner in which Kenya’s position was disclosed to the public, saying the matter only came to light when the White House issued that joint statement that had Kenya among the countries.

Alex Mulwa, an international relations student, was particularly wary of a potential effect on regional cohesion.

“The secrecy surrounding high-profile meetings suggests delicate diplomatic maneuvering and, for me, all this is raising questions about Kenya’s long-term strategic goals and its impact on regional dynamics,” he told Anadolu.

Source: Anadolu Ajansi

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