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story.lead_photo.caption Kent McCoy is a businessman and one of two Arkansans who recently met with Kyle McCarter, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya. This photo was taken at Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya -- Kyle McCarter -- says the east African country could use more Arkansas "marafiki."

The word means "friend" in Kiswahili, one of the nation's official languages.

The former British colony and its 52 million inhabitants would benefit from closer ties to the United States, McCarter said, following a visit to the nation's capital this month.

McCarter shared his thoughts with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, via email, after meeting with two Russellville men -- businessman Kent McCoy and Michael Lamoureux, a lobbyist and former Arkansas state senate president.

Lamoureux completed a mission trip to Kenya last year. McCoy spent six months as a missionary there in 2014. First Baptist Church of Russellville, where he is a member, has planted several churches there.

McCoy, who made his first trip to Kenya when he was 16 years old, has returned repeatedly over the years.

That original journey, with a church group in 1999, was primarily about adventure, he said.

"Honestly, it wasn't as much about my faith and wanting to tell people about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was more about lions and wild animals and the bush of Africa," he said.

That changed eventually, he said. In Africa, "the Gospel and my faith came alive."

Asked the number of trips he has made, McCoy said, "I kind of lost count, but I think it's 25-ish."

In addition to church planting, McCoy's church has also opened a Bible school to train Kenyan ministers.

Now, he hopes to promote closer ties between Arkansans and Kenyans, including educational exchanges and trade partnerships.

Lamoureux said he'd also like to see a closer relationship with Kenya.

"If there's something that Arkansas companies can do or Arkansas citizens that helps ease some of their burdens ... it would be a big help to them and a relatively small lift on our side," he said.

McCarter sees room for greater U.S. involvement. Since his nomination as ambassador, he has promised to promote stronger economic and cultural bonds between the two nations.

A former state senator from downstate Illinois, McCarter didn't take a traditional path to diplomacy. The Oral Roberts University graduate isn't a career state department employee. He wasn't a political megadonor.

But he does speak conversational Kiswahili, and he knows Kenya and its needs more than most Americans.

More than three decades ago, McCarter and his wife, Victoria, were missionaries in Tharaka, helping to build a medical clinic that provides help to malaria patients with HIV.

Even after returning to the United States and starting his own businesses, he remained active in Kenya, returning to the country "several times a year," according to his website.

McCarter's parents, who have worked in Kenya for decades, remain committed to the country. In addition to the medical clinic, the family also established a home for orphaned and abandoned children, as well as a school.

In 2016, McCarter ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the Republican primary, but he impressed the incumbent, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, whom he had attempted to unseat.

After Trump's victory, Shimkus and the other Republican members of the Illinois congressional district recommended that McCarter be named as U.S. ambassador to Kenya, according to Illinois media reports.

The president nominated McCarter last year. He was confirmed in January.

In his prepared remarks for his confirmation hearing, McCarter promised senators he would be "a resource for American companies doing business" in Kenya and that he would "work to promote partnerships."

In an email, McCarter portrayed Kenya as fertile soil for entrepreneurs.

"The opportunity the USA has for the private sector to partner with Kenya is huge and should be highlighted as real news," he said. "A trained workforce of youth needing opportunity is waiting for investors. Employing Kenyan youth will not only revitalize the Kenyan economy but will develop a stable environment for future growth and innovation."

An economically prosperous Kenya is good for the United States and the world, he said, noting its role in countering the Al Shabaab terrorist group.

"We welcome investors from Arkansas to be part of #USAMarafiki and help us show what real friends do with respect and dignity on the pathway to self reliance," he wrote.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who organized the meeting between McCarter, McCoy and Lamoureux, has never been to Kenya.

But he portrays it as a key U.S. ally in the region.

"Unfortunately, it has been the target of multiple terrorist attacks over the last couple of decades," he said. "China is trying to make inroads as well, given its strategic position in the Horn of Africa."

The bonds between Arkansas and Kenya are strong and the roots are deep, Cotton said.

"I think it would be a great thing for both our state and especially our institutions of higher education, our businesses, and for the Kenyan people on the other hand, to strengthen and deepen those ties," he added.

Religion on 09/28/2019

Print Headline: U.S. ambassador advocates stronger Kenya ties

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