US-Kenya pact revives the spirit of Kennedy Airlift

In a move reminiscent of the Kennedy Airlift that helped transform post-independence Kenya, the US and Kenya have signed a new agreement to bolster STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and innovation.

This new partnership, under the Enhancing STEM Education for Economic Development Framework for Cooperation, aims to drive forward Kenya’s educational and economic sectors.

The agreement was signed yesterday by USAID Counsel Clinton White and Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi during President William Ruto’s state visit to the US. The ceremony, held at Spelman College in Atlanta is one of the hallmarks of the 60-year bilateral ties between the two nations. The leaders’ discussions centred on investments in higher education, especially STEM, to foster economic growth and innovation in Kenya and across the region.

The Kennedy Airlift of the 1960s, initiated by Tom Mboya with support from figures like Senator John F. Kennedy, paved the way for hundreds of East African students to study in the US. This new agreement echoes that transformative era, with a modern twist focused on STEM disciplines crucial for future growth.

USAID announce a total of $32 million (Kes4.2 billion) investment in Kenya’s education system as part of its framework. This includes a $850,000 (Kes11.8 million) financing under the EdTech Africa initiative, promoting STEM partnerships between Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Open University of Kenya, MasterCard, and Microsoft.

A new $6.5 million (Kes855 million) project will connect Kenyan STEM graduates with jobs in high-growth sectors such as ICT, textile manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals.

Read also: Changing education landscape in Western Kenya

New era of scholarships

In addition, a $24.5 million (Kes3.2 billion) plan aims to improve early grade literacy and will ensure that more young Kenyans are equipped with the foundational skills necessary for success in higher education.

Overall, these investments are designed to build a robust pipeline of future scientists, engineers, and researchers who will drive Kenya’s economic development.

In the agreement, US universities will partner with Kenyan institutions, creating a dynamic network of linkages and exchange programmes that will help enrich the educational experience and expand research opportunities. These partnerships aim to harness the full potential of Kenyan students and educators, driving innovation and job growth in STEM related industries.

In post-independence Kenya, the Kennedy Airlift brought hundreds of promising students to North American universities, supported by notable leaders Harry Belafonte, Jackie Robinson and Sidney Poitier. The new framework for cooperation aspires to have similar impact on Kenya’s future.

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