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Can Kenya survive possible US pressure over Huawei 5G network deal?

At a time the Kenyan government is working to engage Chinese telecom giant, Huawei to handle its 5G network development, there are fears that the deal may hobble its US Free Trade Agreement and force US to pullout which would amount to great loss to Nairobi. The deal is planned to be via a collaboration with Safaricom, the leading telecom in Kenya, which drives its mobile money system.

The fear is stemming from the position already taken by the US over UK’s deal with Huawei on 5G network development earlier this month.

Recall that US had asked London to cancel its understanding with Huawei based on security risks claims that involving the Chinese firm may give it illegal access to the premium security intelligence both countries share.

US had in the last couple of years seen Huawei as a serious hacker that can be easily used by China to decode critical security issues of the US.

The above fear is coming from the fact that the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) in partnership with Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) recently hosted a roundtable discussion with Kenyan and U.S. business leaders and government officials to explore how the private sector can support bilateral effort that will arise from a Kenya-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

The bilateral drive as a follow up to the recent visit of H.E. President Kenyatta to the United States, where the U.S. and Kenyan Government announced the launch of talks aimed at establishing a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries. If successful, it would be the first U.S. FTA with a sub-Saharan African nation and potentially a model the United States will use to enhance its trade and investment relationship with other African countries.

Ms. Florizelle Liser, President and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), noted that a Kenya-U.S. FTA could build on Kenya’s success in trading value-added products under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). “It is also an opportunity” she said, “for the private sectors of both the U.S. and Kenya to deepen trade and investment ties in key sectors from energy to banking, construction, ICT/digital trade, health, manufacturing and services trade.”

Ms. Liser mentioned that the roundtable today was the first of many that CCA plans on hosting with KEPSA as a long-time partner. “We would like to use this platform to provide regular updates on ongoing negotiations, ensure private sector participation and support, and extract real time opportunities for businesses.”

KEPSA CEO, Ms. Carole Karuga, in her opening remarks emphasized the importance of growth of the FTA between Kenya and the USA stating that the increased trade opportunity for export and import would lead to growth of business.

Ms. Karuga pointed out that Kenya is the leader of the East African Community and went further to underscore that Kenya, among the businesses in Africa participating in global trade, is leading the pact.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Kyle McCarter who spoke at the event said: “We look forward to working together to create a free-trade agreement that allows Kenyan and American businesses to benefit from increased access to each other’s markets and one where both our consumers will enjoy greater prosperity though expanded choice and competition within the marketplace. A successful U.S.-Kenya FTA will stand as a landmark for East Africa and for all of Africa.”