Press Availability in Nairobi, Kenya

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Nairobi, Kenya
May 4, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. I’m delighted to be here in Nairobi, and I appreciate enormously the very generous welcome beginning with yesterday and my visit to the Nairobi National Park, which was wonderful. And I want to thank President Kenyatta and the cabinet and Cabinet Secretary Mohamed for not just their generous welcome, but also for their partnership on some of the toughest challenges that we face today internationally. There’s an African proverb to the effect that rain does not fall on one roof alone, and it’s with the reality of our shared interests in mind that I come to Nairobi today to consult with the president and with the foreign minister about the many concerns that we share about our two countries in advance of President Obama’s visit in July.

There can be no question that our meetings here today were timely. Events in Kenya and the broader region present us with a broad array of tests. The threat posed by violent extremism is regrettably foremost among them. Last month’s brazen murder of at least 147 students and teachers in Garissa was a heartbreaking reminder of terrorism’s cost. On behalf of President Obama and the American people, I join in expressing our deepest condolences to all of the families and to the friends of the victims in Garissa and to all those affected in previous attacks – in Mandera, Wajir, Kenya’s coast, including Mombasa, out – Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, and elsewhere. And I will say to you that these tragedies may cause momentary turmoil, even chaos, and they bring, obviously, enormous grief to families. But in the end, instead of dividing us they bring us closer together, and they will never shake our commitment to human decency, to dignity, and to peace.

As I discussed with Kenya’s leaders today, we know that defeating terrorism requires a long-term effort. It requires a comprehensive strategy. Border security, law enforcement actions are a big part of the equation. But the even larger imperative is to persuade and prevent people, particularly young people, from joining such groups as al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and Daesh. Otherwise, no matter how many terrorists we bring to justice, these groups will simply replenish their ranks and we will not be safer.

That effort must have the support of religious authorities, educators, and citizens who will discredit hateful doctrines and help people to build stronger and more resilient communities. The success of this strategy depends on building trust between the authorities and local communities, and that includes members of Kenya’s Muslim community who were among the first to march against the terrorists in Garissa. And it also includes Somali refugees in Kenya, who are here after all because they fled from and despise al-Shabaab.

America has learned in our own fight against terrorism that we have to be true to democratic values, not just because it’s right, but also because it’s the only sure path to security over the long term. So I am glad that today President Kenyatta reinforced his agreement with us that human rights and the rule of law have to be respected in the counterterrorism efforts, and that security officials should partner with civil society organizations, especially with those with deep roots in the communities that are scarred by terrorism. The more united and proud of its institutions that a country is, the stronger it is going to be in fighting back against the threats of terror. And that is why my government will continue to provide assistance to Kenya’s civil society and promote the democratic principles embodied in the country’s 2010 constitution.

Kenya also needs international assistance and international solidarity on another matter – that is the challenge of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to this country for protection from persecution, fear, and war. I know that represents a burden to the people here. I know people here are feeling that burden, particularly after an event like Garissa. It’s unavoidable. It’s completely understandable. But on the other hand, Kenya can be extraordinarily proud of the fact that it stands out as a country that has welcomed people from their terror in other countries, and that Kenya stands as a partner in the effort to bring to justice those who perpetrate that kind of terror.

Earlier today, I had a chance to meet with a few of the refugees, and I also spoke to students at Dadaab, the largest of Kenya’s refugee camps. I spoke to them through an internet connection to their classroom. I have to tell you, it was really very moving, quite extraordinary to talk to a young man who had spent 19 years in a camp, who would love to go home, who would love to be somewhere else, who would love to have a job, love to complete his university education. I talked to one young woman who told me she had been in the camp for years. I asked how long; she said, “I was born here.” And now she’s finishing high school.

What an extraordinary thing that these kids are actually able to get at least that far in their education, and every single one of them would love to be able to have a job, and every single one of them would prefer that that job could be at home, in peace. And that is why it is so imperative that all of us work together in order to bring peace to South Sudan, to Somalia. And Kenya should be proud of the effort that it is making together with the international community to help make such a difference, particularly in Somalia. I was very inspired by these kids’ drive, passion to learn. One young woman told me she’s studying chemistry and biology. And I asked her what she wants to be; she said she wants to be a doctor. I’ll bet she’s never been in a hospital, but she still wants to be a doctor.

So we have an enormous challenge, all of us. This is not just a challenge for Kenya, believe me. This is a challenge for the global community. And all of us need to work together in order to guarantee that people don’t live in a refugee camp from the date of birth until the end of high school, but rather that they can go home. That’s our obligation. Refugee camps are supposed to be temporary, not supposed to become permanent cities in another nation. And we all have an obligation to do better in order to provide a better alternative to these young people.

I’m pleased to announce that the United States has just provided an additional 45 million to the UN high commissioner for refugees for the operations here in Kenya. And we are proud of the fact that we’re perhaps the largest donor in the world in terms of the refugee effort at this moment, with 3.8 billion alone going to the refugees from Syria and that conflict. And this year, a significant – about $100 million coming in additional aid for the fight against terrorism here in Kenya alone. This funding is part of our effort to maintain our longstanding commitment and Kenya’s longstanding commitment to be able to provide haven to refugees. What this money will mean is better schools, it means access to health clinics, it means safer housing and clean water to drink, and it will benefit not only refugees but also particularly the Kenyan communities who graciously act as hosts.

Another of Kenya’s neighbors, South Sudan, was also the topic of our discussions today. We all know of that country’s great promise. I had the privilege of working on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement’s application, of traveling there, meeting with President Kiir, of being there during the election and being there for the referendum and celebrating the independence that came afterwards. And we all know of that country’s extraordinary promise during that period of time. We saw firsthand the dedication and the courage and the resilience of its people. But let me be clear – that promise is now at grave risk of being squandered because of civil violence, because of more than 2 million people who have been displaced from their homes. With each day, the ranks of the hungry and the malnourished grow. And none of this had to happen, but it did happen because the country’s leaders failed to act on behalf of the best interests of their people and their nation.

This is not happening, except for the absence of the leadership necessary to bring it to a close. For more than a year, regional leaders, the United States and others have been urging South Sudan’s leaders to live up to their commitments to silence the guns and establish a transitional government that can set their country on a path towards peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, South Sudan’s leaders, both those officially in office and those contesting those who are in office, have not yet chosen to make the compromises needed for peace. And it is that absence of compromise and absence of leadership that is leading to this extraordinary challenge to the region.

It is increasingly clear that justice and accountability, as well as reconciliation, are essential to peace. And to complement our existing funding for local reconciliation efforts, the United States is committing an additional $5 million to support South Sudanese and international efforts to create a credible, impartial, and effective justice mechanism, such as a hybrid court, in order to hold perpetrators of violence to account. The funds will also support efforts to build the capacity of civil society to document human rights violations. And I call on other international donors to join us in committing funds to these critical justice and reconciliation efforts.

The choices that South Sudan’s leaders will make ultimately will determine whether the country continues on the path of conflict or restores the hope which its citizens so richly deserve. For the sake of all the people of South Sudan, we hope the choice will be made for peace.

In closing, I want to once again thank the government of and the people of Kenya for their wonderful hospitality during my brief stay here. I know President Obama is very much looking forward to coming in a short time. I want to offer, if I may, my personal congratulations to Kenya’s Caroline Rotich for her extraordinary victory in last month’s Boston Marathon. As all of you know, the Boston Marathon has taken on a very special meaning over these last two years, and it has always been – before an act of violence shattered its peacefulness, it had always been one of the great marathons of the world, as it is today. I know how proud Kenya is to have such a world-class long distance runner, and we are delighted to honor her.

With that, let me say thank you to all of you, and I’m delighted to take a few questions. Marie.

MS HARF: The first question is from Brad Klapper of the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: I saw you being handed questions, so I still trust this is one question.

MS HARF: I saw that too, Brad.

QUESTION: Since you said “a few questions,” if you’ll indulge me.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, a few – one from you and one from somebody else, and that’s a few.

QUESTION: A question in three parts. On Kenya specifically, did you discuss the Dadaab complex? Did you demand that it stay open? And do you have any reactions to comments by the deputy prime minister on homosexuals in his country that he made recently?

Since you’re in Africa, can you comment briefly on the continued protests and violence in nearby Burundi? And on a – on what is unfortunately a similar topic, the protests that we saw yesterday of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: So I did discuss the Dadaab camp with President Kenyatta, but I didn’t have to demand anything, because the president couldn’t have been more forthcoming that this is an enormous challenge for the country, as I mentioned; that the people of Kenya are concerned about the numbers of refugees that they are currently hosting. And I think anybody has to understand that’s a burden on the country and I think he was reflecting and has reflected the challenge that it presents to the country.

But he also made it clear that Kenya has a great tradition of hosting refugees, and that the key is to accelerate efforts to have a plan in place for the ability of the people in not just Dadaab but in all of the refugee camps to be able to return home in an orderly and voluntary manner with dignity and with safety. That’s his goal; that’s our goal. And I am confident that the camp at Dadaab will remain open while we work through how people will be able to go home by doing a better job of finishing our task in Somalia, in South Sudan. And that is the mission.

So I think what the pressures of the refugee situation are doing is reminding everybody of the need to accelerate efforts to solve the underlying fundamental problems so people can go back to their homes in peace. I leave here with a much greater awareness of the challenge, with a much more immediate sense of the urgency of resolving it, and with a much greater commitment to try to work with our international partners in order to get the job done and be able to put those kids in places where they can actually get jobs and go to work rebuilding their own country and relieve the burden from the people of Kenya.

With respect to the comments, I just heard about this before I came in here. I haven’t read the comments. I don’t know what was or wasn’t actually said, so I’m not going to comment with specificity, except to say that the United States believes that all people are created equal, that all people have rights. That includes people of every faith, every gender, every choice of partner. No matter who you love or who you are in your life, you have all the rights of every other human being. And that is our position in the United States, and we will never, ever waver from that position.

With respect to Burundi, we are deeply concerned about President Nkurunziza’s decision, which flies directly in the face of the constitution of his country. And the violence that is expressing, the concern of his own citizens about that choice should be listened to and avoided as we go forward in these days. It’s my understanding an African Union delegation will go there soon to meet with him to try to underscore the importance of adhering to the constitution of the country, and it’s our hope in the United States that ultimately that is what will happen and that the people of Burundi will be given the choice that their constitution promises them.

With respect to what has happened in Israel – again, I have only been able to catch a glimpse on television, and I know that there are – the events grew out of an incident between a police officer and an Ethiopian Jewish member of the military there. I don’t know all the facts. I assume and believe that it will be thoroughly under investigation. I know the prime minister was planning today to have meetings at the highest level with police, with military, with the individual officer and others. I am confident that Israeli leadership will want to work this through in a way that honors the goals and aspirations and traditions and values of the people of Israel, and I think we need to give them the space to be able to do that.

MS HARF: Great. Our final question is from Geoffrey Mosoku of the Standard Group. Wait for the microphone, please.

QUESTION: Secretary, my question goes to the terrorism attacks in Kenya. Obviously, most Kenyans feel --

SECRETARY KERRY: Hold it a little closer, if you will.

QUESTION: I’m saying most Kenyans feel that Kenya’s been isolated in the war against terror. The president of Kenya has spoken to that effect, saying that whenever there are attacks in Kenya, we see travel advisories, we see most Western countries fleeing, which is in contrast to what we saw in France when there was an attack on the (inaudible). So I just want to know what is the level of the U.S. assistance towards Kenya in the global war against terror, especially on the al-Shabaab, Kenya’s operation in Somalia. What is the kind of intervention that the U.S. Government is putting in place?

Today you met the opposition leaders as well. Probably if you can appraise us on the specific issues that you discussed with them.

And then on – still on Somalia, of course there’s a debate whether Kenya should withdraw its troops from Somalia – the KDF. What’s the position of America?


QUESTION: On Somalia – about Kenya’s troops in Somalia, the KDF. Those who are saying --


QUESTION: -- it’s time our troops come back home. What is the position of America?

And final, will you tell us what makes you love Kenya? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: President Obama makes me love Kenya. No, I’m joking. (Laughter.) I love Kenya because I have known Kenya for years and years and years. When I was in the Senate – I’m going to answer your last question first, obviously. I’m jumping at it. I asked Iain Douglas Hamilton to come to the Senate and testify, which he did, to talk about the plight of the elephants and the challenge of conservation. And years ago, I knew and met Richard Leakey and knew of his work here and many other people’s work, and of course through the years we have admired greatly what Kenya has done to set an example for all of Africa with the Kenyan Wildlife Service, which is quite extraordinary in its quality and capacity, but it goes way beyond that.

Kenya is a country of extraordinary promise. It’s really one of the leaders of all of Africa. It is now in this second republic, struggling for democracy again and full-throated participation of all of its citizens. There’s an enormous amount happening here. There are more than 100 U.S. companies that are engaged in business and hopeful of building jobs for the future. There’s great education opportunity, great passion for the role that Kenya plays as a leader in so many different ways. I actually have a cousin who has lived here for 22 years who works at the United Nations environment program who has married a Kenyan and has family here. And so this is a place that I’ve heard a lot about through the years and members of my family have traveled to, and I’ve finally been able to do that and I’m very happy for that fact.

With respect to the – I’m going to go backwards. With respect to the opposition, we had a very broad conversation. They came very prepared. They had a presentation that they made to me about the concerns. One of them was about troops and where they are and what’s happening with terrorism. They talked about other social needs, structural needs in the country, and the constitution – the need for it to be fully implemented and so forth. And it was a very constructive conversation and I appreciated the opportunity to be able to hear from many different voices in Kenya. Tomorrow morning I’ll meet with members of civil society; have an opportunity to be able to learn even more. So it’s a healthy exchange and I don’t think any leader of another country should come and only talk to the government in place. I think you need to talk to many different voices and listen carefully, and that’s what I’ve been doing.

With respect to – I think your next – was the troops? Let me just say that Kenya – I know this is always hard. We have troops in Afghanistan. We now have some troops back in Iraq who are helping to train and advise with respect to the challenge of Daesh. And Americans have lived for a long time with the cost of exercising global leadership and being involved in helping to bring peace to places, and to bring democracy and opportunity for people. It’s a privilege, even as it is also a burden.

Kenya is playing that role, this dramatic and important role of leadership in Somalia and in South Sudan. And we believe it is absolutely critical for Africa to be front and center in the solutions to challenges in Africa. The last thing Africans would want are Americans or British or other countries who have had long histories in other countries being the leaders of this. It’s not appropriate. So we’re part of the team, and Kenya is a leader in that team. And the role that Kenya is playing internally in Somalia is critical to the future of Somalia. Somalia is making progress. Al-Shabaab is being beaten back and pushed back. The political system is coming alive again.

And I would respectfully submit to Kenyans that Kenya will be safer if Somalia is more stable. Kenya will be safer if South Sudan can resolve its problems. Kenya will be safer if there aren’t more refugees pouring across a border because those communities can’t pull themselves together. So I think Kenyans should be proud, and obviously, they want an end to it. We all want an end to it. And one of the things I think we need that I’ve learned out of this trip is that AMISOM needs a little boost, needs a little more input, and we need to find the ways to make certain that we have all the assets necessary to be able to accomplish the mission. And I’m very, very hopeful. But I do hope that Kenyans will be patient.

What I think was articulated to me today is we need the exit strategy, and the exit strategy needs to be a success. And we need a clearer sense of how that success is going to come, not just have an endless, open-ended engagement or conflict where people have a right to ask when is this going to end. So we have a job as leaders to try to set out that roadmap, and that’s something we’re going to work on harder in the next few days.

QUESTION: The issue of funding to Kenya?

SECRETARY KERRY: What did I leave out?

QUESTION: The issue about funding in Kenya dealing (inaudible)?

MS HARF: Terrorism (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I’m sorry. Sure. Look, Kenya is a key partner, as I just said, in the fight against terrorism, and cooperation between our governments is very, very strong. I think – I don't know what the period of years is, but I think we’ve put in some $645 million in an effort to assist over these last years with Kenya directly, and this year alone, I believe it’s more than $100 million, and I just announced additional funding – 45 million plus the 5 million – so we are deeply engaged in trying to help Kenya to be able to push back and deal with terrorism. We’re working on border, border security. We’re working on intelligence sharing. We’re working together in terms of law enforcement and capacity building.

So we have an enormous set – a wide range, really – of security cooperative efforts. We provide equipment, we provide essential training to certain key Kenyan military and law enforcement units. We also assist with counterterrorism investigations, with countering violent extremism. There will be a countering violent extremism summit here in the next weeks that will bring people from all over to talk about how we not just push back against the active terrorists, but how do we deplete the pool of future terrorists? How do we make certain we’re not taking some people off the field while replacements keep coming along?

That’s part of the challenge – dealing with foreign fighters, dealing with finance, dealing with delegitimizing those who claim religious support for something that has no basis in religion whatsoever. So those are the things that we are cooperating on, even as we also emphasize the importance of not losing your commitment to human rights and your commitment to standards even as you pursue your efforts against terrorists. And we are working on rule of law, we’re working in support of your justice system. I met today with your chief justice who is doing an extraordinary job of helping to move the judiciary forward. We admire enormously what he’s up to.

So I think the breadth of our engagement is really quite extraordinary, and all of it has come about through consultations directly with the government. There’s nothing we’re doing that isn’t invited and nothing we’re doing that isn’t cooperative. And we hope that it can make a difference as we go forward.

Thank you all very, very much. Good to be with you. Thank you.