FOREIGN MINISTER JUMA: Thank you. Excellency Mr. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, United States of America, Excellency Ambassador Godec, colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of the Fourth Estate: I am delighted to welcome and host His Excellency Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State of the United States, to Nairobi today. The Secretary is in Kenya for three days as part of his official visit that began at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa and that is heading to a number of African countries, namely Djibouti, Ethiopia, Chad, and Nigeria.
On behalf of His Excellency the President, the government, and the people of Republic of Kenya, and indeed on my own behalf, I take this opportunity to express our utmost gratitude to Secretary Tillerson for his historic visit. Visiting Kenya as part of his first official tour of Africa is not only a great testament to, but a timely reaffirmation of, our deep historical and strategic relationship between Kenya and the United States of America.
Late this afternoon, Secretary Tillerson had the opportunity to meet and hold bilateral talks with Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta, during which a range of issues were discussed and modalities of follow-up of agenda agreed upon. During their meeting, President Kenyatta expressed his satisfaction at the existing strong bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues and areas. He reaffirmed his commitment to continue working closely with the administration of the United States on matters of mutual interest.
The discussion focused on priority areas of cooperation, including their shared conviction in the fight against terrorism, radicalization, other transnational crimes, as well as regional peace and security, and more importantly, our economic partnership.
On the bilateral front, President Kenyatta shared his focus on the Big Four agenda, which aims at improving livelihoods, creating jobs, and growing the economy of Kenya by focusing on critical areas of our economy in the next five years. He urged the Government of the United States of America to support the implementation of the Big Four and observed with delight the steps taken by a number of American companies, including Bechtel International, to set their African headquarters in Nairobi and their readiness to commence investment in construction of a number of our infrastructure projects. The president also expressed his appreciation that all processes are now complete in readiness for the inaugural direct flight between Nairobi and New York and expressed his optimism in the – that this flight – this flight – direct flight between our countries will boost people-to-people contacts and trade between our countries.
In our exchange of views with Secretary Tillerson, I have reaffirmed and the president as well has reaffirmed Kenya’s commitment to the values of democratic governance, constitutionalism, the rule of law, and human rights. We underscored the importance of respecting established democratic institutions as the basis for entrenching democratic governance across the globe. We noted the exponential growth of trade between our countries and we hope that we can begin to negotiate towards concluding a framework that will succeed AGOA when it comes to an end in 2025.
At the regional front, Kenya sits in a fragile region with numerous security threats. We commend the Government of the United States of America for their existing robust partnership and support to us in the area of security, military, and intelligence cooperation. In this area, the president urged and Secretary Tillerson reaffirmed the commitment of the two countries to continue working together in the fight against terrorism, in countering violent extremism, and other security threats. We especially welcome the continued support of the USA to AMISOM. We in Kenya, like other troop-contributing countries, believe in the need for sustained engagement in order to sustain the gains made and to create an enabling environment to turn Somalia around. On South Sudan, we noted the slow progress in the IGAD high-level revitalization process, and we share very deep concerns about this crisis that has impact on large numbers of people. But President Kenyatta reaffirmed Kenya’s continued demonstrated commitment towards our efforts to restore South Sudan to normalcy.
In reference to environmental and wildlife conservation, we appreciate the longtime support from the U.S., especially against illegal poaching and trade of wildlife trophies obtained from endangered species, and we continue to urge further U.S. support in this endeavor in order that we can sustain and preserve our common humanity.
I wish at this point to thank Secretary Tillerson for this historic visit. We hope he’ll come back again to enjoy the fauna and beauty of our country that we hold in trust for humanity, and we hope that this time he will also take some time to enjoy a little bit of that menu. It is now my honor and pleasure to invite the Secretary of State of the United States to make his remark. Secretary Tillerson, please.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, thank you so much, Secretary Juma, for the welcome, and congratulations on your recent confirmation to your new position. And I truly enjoyed coming to Kenya and to continuing the work of the United States in this enduring partnership between our two countries. I do want to congratulate President Kenyatta and opposition leader Odinga on their meeting this morning and their joint announcement. This is a very positive step, in our view, and while we know addressing Kenya’s ethnic and political divisions will take some time and effort, today both of these men showed great leadership in coming together in the agreement that they signed today. The United States looks forward to supporting the process that was announced this morning to bring the country together and to address the various national divisions. Kenya is a leader in Africa and a longtime partner of the United States, and we are steadfast in our support for Kenya.
Tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, I will pay my respects to those who died 20 years ago in the U.S. embassy attacks here and in Dar es Salaam. Tragically, we still are confronted with the face of terrorism. During our meeting today, we discussed threats facing Kenya, Africa, and the global community. The United States appreciates our security partnership with Kenya and our shared fight against terrorism. We recognize the 4,000 Kenyan troops serving in Somalia as part of AMISOM to counter al-Shabaab and bring stability to that country.
Kenya is a country of tremendous opportunity. With a fast-growing GDP at more than 5 percent, a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship, and a regional economic – and a regional economic leader, we are eager to find more ways to work with you to grow our economic cooperation. In 2016, total trade between our countries was just under $1 billion. I know we can do much more, and we look forward to growing our trading relations. We commend the government’s Big Four economic growth initiative, and look forward to deepening the ties between American and Kenyan business communities to support this effort.
As the secretary already commented on, we shared our concerns during our discussions with the president about the importance of democratic institutions and Kenya as a leading democracy in Africa. We believe that there are actions that need to be taken in Kenya and that they need to correct certain actions, like shutting down TV stations and threatening the independence of the courts. I know Kenya takes these matters seriously. A free and independent media is essential to safeguarding democracy and giving all Kenyans confidence in their government.
The United States looks forward to growing our comprehensive relationship with Kenya. Our commitment is not to one party, but to all of the Kenyan people. We stand ready to assist Kenyan – Kenya and the Kenyan people as they move forward on what we know will be a very bright future. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Your Excellencies will take a few questions. I want to ask (inaudible).
QUESTION: Karibu Kenya, Secretary Tillerson. Given the timing of the commitment to unity by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga – (inaudible) preceded your arrival – did the U.S. have anything to do with that mediation? And as mentioned by Secretary Monica Juma, the U.S. has reaffirmed its commitment to Kenya’s security – sorry, to collaborating with Kenya in the area of security, as well as growing trade. But what about the other programs, such as PEPFAR, Power Africa, YALI, and AGOA?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think the U.S. obviously has been very supportive of Kenya’s journey moving forward after what’s been a difficult election period. And we were very, very encouraged and pleased to see the two leaders come together today. But I think we really want to give them the credit. This was a very important, I think, action on their part to show that they’re ready to work on behalf of all Kenyans regardless of party and begin to really take this long journey that’s necessary to restore the country, eliminate these divisions that are creating obstacles to Kenya’s future. And so I really – all the credit goes to the two leaders this morning that came together in a very important agreement.
MODERATOR: We have another question from AP. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Cabinet Secretary – (inaudible) microphone? Madame Cabinet Secretary, could you respond to the Secretary’s remarks, and can Kenya truly call itself a democracy in light of the severe restrictions imposed on free media in the country, starting with the silencing of television outlets, the firing of editors, and pressure on news outlets to stifle criticism of the government?
And Mr. Secretary, can you talk a little bit about the fact that your administration has been running the government for more than a year now and we still see vacancies in key administration posts, including assistant and under secretaries, also including the North Korean envoy? What’s taking so long to fill these posts and what’s your response to allegations that some posts are being left unfilled intentionally? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUMA: Let me respond to the question around the media, because I think this has been played up significantly. First of all, I think the definition of democracy goes way beyond the media, but also the provision of free press in this country is secured within our constitution. And the incident that is being referenced here is a one-off incident. It’s an incident that affected three of more than tens of TV stations in this country. It is a matter that involved investigation of the police, and you will know, if you operate in this environment, that we have perhaps the largest media corps anywhere on this African continent.
So the notion that there is a restriction of the media in Kenya is actually not backed by fact and reality. In this country, I think it is important for me to emphasize that we bestowed upon ourselves a progressive constitution because we believed that only that constitution, only those liberties, only those privileges guaranteed by the constitution would help us to realize our full potential as a country. And that involves a whole range of rights and protection of institutions beyond the media.
And I have to say this, that since this process began, the start of that new constitution, which was three decades ago, up and until 2010, when we promulgated the 2010 constitution, and from 2010 to today, including in the event that Secretary of State was referencing this morning, are all indications of our fidelity to our aspiration to deepen our democratic credentials. And therefore, I want to put it to everyone here that the democratic project in this country is on the right trajectory, and it is not under any form of threat whatsoever.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think this is a question you’re probably going to be asking the day the end of the first term of this administration ends. We have a number of nominees in the system, as you well know. We have – we’ve had a number that have been confirmed this year. There are several waiting on their hearings to be scheduled before the relevant committees. But as you well know, the process is a fairly rigorous one, from the time we select an individual, they agree to serve, to go through their clearance processes, to go through the clearance both from a standpoint of security but also the clearance with the White House process, and then make their way over to be nominated directly for consideration by the confirmation by the Senate.
And along that way, not surprisingly, sometimes things come up and people decide they want to proceed any further, or things come up that disqualify individuals. That’s why we have a clearance process. It’s an important element of the whole process of naming and confirming people so that when they are confirmed and they’re ready to serve, there’s no question that they meet all the qualifications as well. And when that happens, we have to start the process over, and that’s happened to us on a number of occasions.
I think with respect to the open positions – I’ve said this many, many times; I’m going to stick with what I’ve said and stand by it – I think if you look at the results that we’re getting in very important policy areas, and you mentioned North Korea, and the open positions we have there, I think as we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, the policy that was put in place and has been executed by the State Department over the past year has succeeded. And we’ve done that in spite of the fact that we have people serving in acting positions in some cases.
So as I’ve said many times, I don’t lose a wink of sleep over the fact that we may not have our nominees in the position because we have very capable, skilled, career diplomats ready to step up and serve in those positions. And they are serving superbly, and we are moving the policies forward, and nothing is being held up because the positions are open.
Would I like to have them filled? Of course I would like to have them filled, because it’s easier on everyone, including our career people, and some of the career people that are waiting for confirmation. It’s a very different matter to be Senate-confirmed versus in an acting role, and we know that. But having said that, I am very, very proud of the State Department and the work that we’re getting done.
MODERATOR: One final question from Ferdinand Omondi.
QUESTION: Thank you. It’s Ferdinand from the BBC. The United Nations accuses Kenya and Uganda of aiding the conflict in South Sudan by supplying arms at a time when the U.S. is pushing South Sudan’s neighbors to enforce an arms embargo. What is the U.S. position in this, and what actions, if any, are being taken?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, the U.S. believes that the arms embargo should be enforced, and that’s – our position has been very clear on that.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUMA: I also have to state here that Kenya is not involved in any supply of arms to any of the parties. For the longest period of time, Kenya has been involved in the search for peace in South Sudan, and it would be foolhardy that we would invest in the search for peace while at the same time arming parties to that conflict. We take the first unintended consequences, including large numbers of refugees that are already flowing into our territories.
So I have to make it abundantly clear that Kenya has no intention of exacerbating that conflict, that Kenya is engaged in terms of efforts to normalize South Sudan, and it is not in our policy or our intention to get involved in supplying arms to either South Sudan or any other country for that matter.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Your Excellencies. And that concludes – that’s the end of this press briefing. Thank you.