A Kenyan scholar is emerging as one of the most influential Africa policy makers in Washington.
Dr Mwangi Kimenyi is Director, Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, a 97-year-old think tank respected among US government policymakers for the quality of its research.
“We have a lot of impact,” Dr Kimenyi said during an interview last week at his Brookings office. “We have been able to influence US policy on Africa.”
Brookings is highly regarded and its scholars are regularly given access to cabinet-level officials in the Obama administration and to senior members of the US Congress.
Dr Kimenyi said, for example, that advisors to President Obama recently requested him to host a forum for top US trade official Michael Froman. Ambassador Froman was invited to speak at Brookings as a curtain raiser for the August 12-13 US-Africa trade conference in Addis Ababa.
The Obama administration reached out to Dr Kimenyi in part because he had drawn his notice by criticising the president’s lack of engagement with Africa.
Before Mr Obama’s visited three African countries last month, Dr Kimenyi had publicly described the tour as a “guilt trip.”
“I didn’t hide that we were very unhappy with Obama policy on Africa,” Dr Kimenyi said last week. “It’s better now. Maybe we played a small role in that.”
After graduating from the University of Nairobi, Dr Kimenyi completed graduate studies at Ohio University and George Mason University, where he obtained a Doctorate degree in Economics.
He later taught in UK’s University of Connecticut, and returned home in 1999. He established the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis. After five years at Kippra, he resumed teaching in Connecticut and was then recruited to join Brookings in 2008.
Former US assistant secretary of state for Africa Johnnie Carson, is among the policymakers whom Dr Kimenyi has met.
And after Carson’s warning last February that “choices have consequences,” Dr Kimenyi says he told him that the run-up to elections “was a bad time to make such a remark,” “I told him that Kenyans don’t like it when the West tells them how to vote.”
Dr Kimenyi says he understands the cautious approach the Obama administration has taken towards the Jubilee administration. “The ICC cases are very tricky for the White House,” he says.
Kenya is currently the focus of some of Dr Kimenyi’s work at Brookings. He and some of his colleagues are carrying out a mapping exercise that will help the government distribute resources to counties equitably.
At Brookings, Dr Kimenyi also works with several Africa-based think tanks, advising them on how to make their research generate interest in their respective countries.
He says that although Brookings is regarded to be aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, he writes only on what he can justify.
“Research findings that might be viewed to be critical of the Obama administration are not be suppressed or altered by Brookings,” he says.
In Kenya, he says, there’s interference with research for political reasons. “This hinders formulation of sound policies.”