Daily Nation Opinion

Kenya’s role in Iranian-US relations


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The recent clashes between Iran and the United States of America are the outcome of long standing historical tensions between the two nations.

Like Kenya, Iran was once the victim of colonial occupation by Western powers who sought to take advantage of its natural resources.

With little regard for local culture and government, Britain and the US made lucrative oil deals in Iran, preceding decades of great frustration and the feeling that autonomy was being withheld.

The CIA later meddled in Iran’s government affairs by helping Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who served as the monarch of Iran, when he was overthrown in the 1979 revolution.

In November of that same year, as part of the revolution, Iranian student activists occupied the US embassy in Tehran and held more than 50 Americans hostage.


Over the past few decades, Iran has sought to become a regional superpower and leader of the Middle East.

This has been evident through anti-American rhetoric and controlling Shi’ite proxies in Lebanon and Syria.

Iran-backed forces have been responsible for terrorist attacks in the aforementioned two countries, as well as targeted attacks on US civilians and soldiers across the region.

The relationship between the two is convoluted and the conflict appears to be intractable judging by the current state of affairs.

The history cannot be changed but the future can be shaped, and many international pundits have reacted to US President Donald Trump’s move to assassinate General Qassem Soleimani with dismay.

His name has been uttered in Kenya before – in 2011 Soleimani was responsible for orchestrating a series of attacks carried out by the Quds Force in Kenya. This ultimately culminated in the KDF incursion into Somalia.

But since then, for the past decade or so, there have been a few conflicts between Kenya and Iran.

While it is the United States’ prerogative to put sanctions on Iran in order to limit the country’s nuclear capabilities, or to attack its generals and even go to war with them, Kenya need not get involved.

We are a great friend to the US and in turn, the US has helped us through foreign aid, partnerships, investments and more. But we are also a strategic asset to the US for many reasons.

As an AMISOM leader in Somalia, as a strategic location on the Indian Ocean, as a stable and peaceful democracy in East Africa, we need not discredit our importance as an ally and as a reliable regional partner.

But we are in a precarious position, carefully straddling the line so as not to get too involved in any conflict that does not need our input.

It takes a brilliant leader to walk this line, to be delicate enough to maintain good relations on both sides while at the same time working exclusively for the geopolitical interests of our own country.

President Kenyatta is doing a great job of working for the Kenyan people.

While we recently suffered a spate of terrorist attacks within our borders at the hands of Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, President Kenyatta is not a reactionary leader.

When a drama is played out in the international arena, it is best not to react at a moment’s notice. Rather, it is advisable to weigh the options, listen to advisers.

Kenyatta’s overarching policy with regards to the US-Iran conflict has seemed to be stepping back and letting the two countries solve their issues on their own. While sanctions have made it hard to trade with Iran, Kenya remains a major supplier of tea to the country, where demand is high.

In the coming weeks, a Kenyan trade mission will travel to Iran in an attempt to retain the market and ensure stable revenue streams for our tea farmers.

Trading with Iran has become more difficult and costly and usually needs to go through a middleman in Dubai or Europe.

President Kenyatta’s decision to send the delegation directly gives us the peace of mind that the Kenyan economy is operating for its own benefit, without serving as a proxy for foreign interests.

While more drama is likely to unfold in the coming weeks, for us it is business as usual – and that will make all the difference as we grow into our role as an African superpower in future.

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