Kenya’s designation as a major non-NATO ally raises treaty oversight concerns.

  • 7 Jun 2024
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by James Ngunjiri


The designation of Kenya as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (non-NATO) ally by the United States on May 23rd came at a time when a proposed bill in the National Assembly seeks to strengthen Parliament’s oversight role over treaty negotiations and ratifications.

The Treaty Making and Ratification (Amendment) Bill – (National Assembly Bill No.9 of 2024) seeks to amend the Treaty Making and Ratification Act to enable the National Assembly to consider and propose amendments to treaties before ratification.

Currently, any bilateral agreements or treaties necessitate approval from the National Assembly, which is just a formality. However, the proposed bill could complicate issues, potentially challenging the government’s ability to swiftly secure such agreements.

If the proposal sails through, the Executive arm of government would be constrained to merely drafting treaties, with the final authority resting with the National Assembly before implementation. This points to a broader effort to democratise the treaty-making process, affording elected representatives a more substantive role in shaping the country’s international commitments. 

Even as this was happening back at home, in the US, President Joe Biden was proposing to Congress his intent to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally. “In accordance with section 517 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (22 U.S.C.2321k), I am providing notice of my intent to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally,” President Biden said.

The US President said he was making this designation in recognition of Kenya’s many years of contributions to the United States Africa Command area of responsibility and globally. Additionally, this designation reflects the US’s national interest in deepening bilateral defence and security cooperation with the Kenyan government.  

“Kenya is one of the United States government’s top counterterrorism and security partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and the designation will demonstrate that the United States sees African contributions to global peace and security as equivalent to those of our major non-NATO allies in other regions. I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action,” he said.

While this designation could bring certain benefits, the country also needs to carefully navigate its foreign policy to ensure that it aligns with its national interests and maintains balanced relationships with other countries and regional organisations.

In addition, the country would need to consider the potential implications of closer ties with NATO on its relationships with other international partners, particularly those outside of the NATO alliance.


Muliro Nasong’o, a resident fellow at the Global Centre for Policy and Strategy (GLOCEPS), in an article published in one of the daily newspapers, said that Kenya’s active agency in international affairs is beset with a cryptic puzzle, which can get more complex following its designations as a major non-NATO ally of the US. “Kenya could potentially be on a collision course with China on the question of Taiwan, which the US treats as a major non-NATO ally.”

Nasong’o said that since China considers Taiwan a renegade province, that should be forcefully aligned with the One-China policy. “Thus, Kenya’s major non-NATO ally status and the huge economic ties with China place Nairobi on the way of opposing powers charging at each other. Kenya could easily end up as geopolitical collateral damage.”

Nasong’o went on to state that the designation of Kenya as a major non-NATO ally could draw the country into the ongoing new Cold War, hence attracting an arms race and proxy tensions in the region. “So, whether Kenya will be adept in balancing its engagements with the West and the East will depend on the country’s diplomatic tact to make the US, China, and Russia co-exist in the geostrategic space that Kenya offers.”


On a positive note, becoming a non-NATO ally could lead to increased military cooperation between Kenya and NATO member states. This is likely to involve joint military exercises, intelligence sharing, and possibly access to advanced military technology and training programs.

However, the US is under no obligation to provide it with direct military assistance, and Kenya is not mandated to send troops for NATO operations.

Additionally, the country could benefit from enhanced security cooperation with NATO, particularly in areas concerning counterterrorism, maritime security, and peacekeeping missions. This will likely provide the country with additional support in addressing security challenges within its region, such as the threat of terrorism from Al-Shabaab.

Similarly, by being recognised as a non-NATO ally, the country could bolster its regional influence, enhancing its ability to play a leading role in addressing regional conflicts and crises.

In addition, closer ties with NATO member states are expected to open up new economic opportunities for the country, like increased foreign investment, trade partnerships, and access to development assistance programs.

How other non-NATO African nations have benefitted

The non-NATO ally status has upgraded the militaries of Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, which are some of the African countries that are part of this. In Tunisia, the country’s military strength changed once it earned the status in 2015, coinciding with budgetary and operational reforms.

Egypt was designated in 1989, forming a cornerstone of US diplomatic forays in North Africa and the Middle East. Morocco also gained extensive experience in counterterrorism as militants from the Islamic State (IS) group seek a foothold in parts of North Africa. The country (Morocco) has been hosting the largest military exercise in Africa since 2007, dubbed “African Lion.”


According to Prof David Monda, a professor of Political Science at the City University of New York’s Guttman Community College, in terms of the African Agenda 2063, Kenya’s non-NATO ally status is an implicit endorsement of American unilateralism in Africa and around the world. “American unilateralism on the continent creates and/or exacerbates wars in contravention of Agenda 2063’s vision of “silencing the guns” and improving continental security,” Prof Monda said.

Prof Monda added that Kenya’s non-NATO status has the capacity to divide African countries between those in the American orbit and those outside it, which he said is not good for African unity or the vision of the African Agenda 2063.