US Senate begins grilling Biden’s Kenya envoy nominee

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US President Joe Biden’s Kenya’s ambassador nominee Meg Whitman. PHOTO | AFP

United States (US) lawmakers have started grilling President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, raising hopes she will finally take up the crucial diplomatic post nearly six months after she was picked for the role.

The billionaire’s nomination which was made last December has been pending approval by the US Senate.

Biden nominated the Democratic Party donor and former eBay and Hewlett-Packard CEO as his envoy to Nairobi in a telling sign of Kenya’s growing economic and diplomatic clout with the US.

Republican US Senator Mitt Romney who sits in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee described Ms Whitman this week as a perfect fit for the role and promised to offer his “full support for her nomination to serve as our nation’s next Ambassador to Kenya.”

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“Meg Whitman is expertly suited to take on the hard work of organising our mission in Kenya and working closely and cooperatively with our Kenyan partners,” said Mr Romney.

He urged the committee and his US Senate colleagues “to support Ms Meg Whitman’s swift confirmation.”

If the committee members approve of her nomination, it goes to the full Senate for a vote, according to US tradition. The House clearance then paves way for posting.

The confirmation process has proved to be frustrating for new presidential administrations regardless of party. As a result, positions requiring Senate confirmation can go unfilled for several months even when the nominations are approved in committee with the support of senators from both parties, analysts say.

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The delay to take her role comes amid growing unease in Nairobi about the Biden administration’s slow pace in concluding a free trade deal with Kenya, which was initiated by his predecessor Donald Trump.

It also comes at a time Washington, which considers Nairobi as central to its regional foreign policy interests, has expressed concerns that Kenya’s pivotal role as a regional peace broker could be compromised by domestic distractions related to this year’s election.

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