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Reluctant Partners: Fighting Terrorism and Promoting Democracy in Kenya


  • Author’s note: This paper is based primarily on research conducted by the author as a Fulbright Scholar in Kenya in 2005–2006. The U.S. Department of State, the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, and United States International University in Nairobi are gratefully acknowledged for their support. The assistance of Mark Gaya, Patrick Kamau, Norah Kiereri, and Naima Koriow was greatly appreciated. The author also would like to thank Frank Holmquist, Alamin Mazrui, Bob Press, Tom Wolf, colleagues at UNC Charlotte, and anonymous reviewers for comments on early drafts. Any errors are my own.


Do fighting terrorism and promoting democracy go together, as policy makers suggest, or do they conflict in practice? This paper explores these dynamics in the case of Kenya, a transitional democracy that has been the victim of several terrorist attacks. Based on an examination of recent areas of cooperation and contention between the United States and Kenya, the paper argues that democratic pressures can make it difficult for newly elected governments to cooperate publicly in the “war on terror,” though private cooperation often continues behind the scenes. This suggests the need for an approach among American policy makers that recognizes the domestic political constraints faced by foreign partners and seeks common ground between internal and external priorities. While the goals of promoting democracy and fighting terrorism may conflict in the short term, the development of shared democratic values could pave the way for closer partnerships in the future.