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Egypt-Kenya military and defense pacts

On 26 May, Egypt and Kenya inked a technical agreement for defense cooperation in the presence of General Mohamed Farid, Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed forces, Monica Juma, Kenya’s Defense Cabinet Secretary, and Robert Kibochi, Chief of Defense Forces. 

The agreement, which comes one day before the visit of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Djibouti to discuss issues of mutual interest, is in line with Cairo’s endeavors to boost its relations with African countries.

Entrenched Relations

The Egypt-Kenya defense cooperation agreement is one chapter of the bigger, strong enduring relationships that have long existed between Egypt and Kenya. The historical ties between the two countries attest to the deep roots of cooperation and joint coordination between them in various fields. 

Egypt played a central and vital role in Kenya’s struggle towards independence: it was the safe refuge which Kenyan Liberation Movements retreated to and it was Egypt that provided Kenyan activists with all means of support which fostered Kenya’s chances towards independence and helped it break free from the British occupation. The year 1964 marked the inauguration of Kenya’s embassy in Cairo and since then the relationship between the two countries has seem more proximity and greater coordination in a number of fields.  

In 2014, with Al-Sisi taking office, the relationship between the two countries has entered a whole new phase of cooperation. The historical visit of President Al-Sisi to Kenya in 2017 is a clear manifestation of this shift, all the more so as this visit came 33 years from the last visit of President Hosni Mubarak to Nairobi in 1984. The visit yielded abundant outcomes in terms of a number of issues of common interest, including primarily countering terrorism and regional security issues besides cementing bilateral ties between the two countries at all levels.

Additionally, the economic relationship between Egypt and Kenya went beyond bilateral scope, extending to regional-level partnerships through economic groupings that bring the two countries together, chief among them is the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Statistics show that the trade volume between Egypt and Kenya has shown growth which is very indicative of the deep economic relations between the two countries. Between 2015 and 2020, the trade volume between Egypt and Kenya increased by 3.58 percent, reaching $635.8 million relative to $444 million in 2015.

On another level, the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development played a remarkable role evolving the bilateral relations between Egypt and Kenya through a variety of ways including qualifying and training Kenyan cadres in several fields e.g. the Ministry of Electricity’s grant which aims at training 17 Kenyans annually, or through providing humanitarian and development aid to Kenya. In 2017, Egypt provided a $5.5 million worth aid to develop water resources in Kenya, either by digging wells or building dams to conserve water.

Multiple indications

Signing the defense cooperation agreement between Egypt and Kenya carries many implications that could be clarified in light of the following points:

First: Promoting military and security cooperation: Egypt-Kenya defense agreement cannot be separated from the entirety of Egypt’s movements in Africa aimed at consolidating military and security relations with a number of African countries. These moves took two forms:

  • Working on boosting the combat efficiency of regional militaries and carrying out military drills and trainings with a number of countries with the aim of exchanging experiences and training on different theatres of operations. For example, recently, Egypt and Sudan carried out the “Guardians of the Nile” military drill (26-31 May). And while it was the largest military exercise between Egypt and Sudan, it wasn’t the first as it was preceded by joint aerial exercises Nile Eagles 1 (November 2020) and Nile Eagles 2 (April 2021).

Signing military and defense agreements and memoranda of understanding with regional countries. During the few past weeks, Egypt signed three agreements similar to the one signed with Kenya, namely a defense pact with Sudan (March 2021), an intelligence and military sharing pact with Uganda (April 2021), and finally a joint military training pact with Burundi. So, with the first quarter of 2021 behind, Egypt managed to sign four military and security pacts. These pacts are part of Egypt’s efforts to possess tools of deterrence to face existing and potential challenges, which could affect its vital interests in the region.

Second: Addressing security challenges: Egypt’s growing movements in the previous periods (mostly og a military and security nature) are part of Egypt’s grand strategy aimed at ensuring security and stability in the region, whether in Africa in General or the Nile Basin and the Horn of Africa in particular, a strategy that is in line with Egypt’s vision of “Silencing the Guns”, which it had long adopted during chairing the African Union. Thus, the Egyptian military deployment and presence the way it is could help avoid any deterioration in the security situation or it spiraling out of control, particularly when it comes to terrorism and the activity of terrorist groups and organizations. Thus, the Egypt-Kenya defense agreement can serve as part of bilateral efforts of Egypt and Kenya to jointly address those challenges and any resulting changes and shifts in the region, due to either hostilities, infighting, instability, emergence of non-state actors, or the fragile nature of some institutions and countries in the region. 

Third: Underlining the depth of Egyptian-African ties: Egypt’s movements towards Africa reflect its desire to restore its regional role and presence in the African continent, underscoring the interconnection and powerful ties with continent countries. This has been evidenced by Egypt’s movements over the past few years, on the grounds that Africa was – is still and will always remain – well regarded in Egypt’s foreign policy circles and that Egypt’s active presence would ensure safeguarding its strategic interests and help it re-gain momentum after long years of absence. Egypt chairing the African Union during 2019, the efforts it expended during this period, and the exchange visits and meetings between Cairo and a number of African capitals, are all revealing of Egypt’s return to its African roots. Thus, Egypt’s foreign policy reveal a serious vision to revitalize cooperation and coordination between Egypt and the African countries through employing a number of tools, either diplomatic, economic, or military.

Fourth: Adopting a pre-emptive policy: Drawing on a set of varying tools and its close ties with the Nile Basin countries, especially the upstream countries, Egypt adopts a preemptive policy that would enable it to preserve its vital interests in the Nile waters, particularly with respect to the Cooperative Framework Agreement signed in Entebbe in 2010 which Egypt and Sudan rejected for conflicting with the historical rights and international conventions that regulate utilization of the waters of the Nile River. This might well explain Egypt’s movements towards Kenya and both Uganda and Burundi early – a preemptive step to widen the scope of mutual interests with those countries. So, the strategic goal of these Egyptian movements is to preserve Egypt’s water share of the Nile River.

Fifth: Balancing regional and global presence: Africa is a fiercely contested continent between regional and global powers that seek extension of their hegemony. Egypt’s recent overwhelming presence in Africa is aimed at balancing its regional and international presence towards ensuring preserving its vital interests, particularly Africa is a top priority of Egypt’s foreign policy. As such, promoting security cooperation with African countries and strengthening bilateral relations with them at the political, economic, and military levels can secure Egypt’s strategic interests, preserve its national security, and place it among the influential actors on the continent.

To sum up, the Egypt-Kenya defense agreement and Egypt’s other movements in Africa are indicative of its new directions in foreign policy, focusing on regaining its momentum and widening the scope of foreign policy in Africa, which will eventually enable Egypt to restore its historical and leading role in Africa as one of the most influential and effective actors with its rich history and wide acceptance and trust by all African countries. 

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