NAIROBI (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Kenya on Monday it had an important role in helping resolve conflicts in South Sudan and Somalia and pledged $45 million in new aid to help it deal with 600,000 refugees.
Speaking after meetings with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition politicians in Nairobi, he said recent attacks by Somali al Shabaab Islamist militants in Kenya were part of the cost of playing that role.
“We believe it is absolutely critical for Africa to be front and center in the solutions to challenges in Africa,” Kerry told a news conference.
“Kenya will be safer if Somalia is more stable, Kenya will be safer if South Sudan can resolve its problems,” he added
Kenya first sent its troops into neighboring Somalia in 2011 after several attacks on its territory that it blamed on al Shabaab. It later joined the AMISOM peacekeeping force and currently has 3,664 troops in Somalia.
Al Shabaab has since carried out attacks to punish Kenya, including a 2013 raid on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall that killed at least 67 people and the massacre of 148 people at a university near the Somali border last month.
The group has also built up a network in Kenya, which on Monday charged four men with recruiting youths along the coast south of the Somali border to join the movement.
Kerry criticized South Sudan’s government and rebels for failing to end its civil conflict, saying their actions put the future of the world’s youngest nation at “grave risk”.
He pledged $45 million in fresh assistance for the UN refugee agency to help deal with refugees fleeing Somalia and South Sudan.
Kenya’s government has threatened to close the Dadaab refugee camp, which with about 350,000 Somali refugees is the world’s biggest refugee camp, as a security risk.
After his meetings, Kerry said he better understood the challenges the Somali conflict and refugee problem posed to Kenya.
“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,” he said.
Kerry met for an hour and a half with Kenyatta, the last 30 minutes without aides. “It was a good meeting,” he said, adding they agreed that respect for human rights should be part of any counter-terrorism strategy.
Kenyatta’s spokesman said security issues and investment and trade were the focus for talks. A planned visit by President Barack Obama to Kenya later this year was also discussed, he said.
Additional reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Edmund Blair and Tom Heneghan