Biden woos Kenya's President Ruto with key state visit

AFP , Thursday 23 May 2024

US President Joe Biden is rolling out the red carpet Thursday for his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto with a diplomacy-heavy state visit and a lavish White House dinner with all the trimmings.

Biden Ruto
US President Joe Biden (R) and Kenya s President William Ruto (L) take part in an event with CEOs and business leaders in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 22, 2024. AFP


It is the first state visit to Washington by an African leader in more than 15 years.

As Biden seeks to counter geopolitical headwinds across the continent, he will formally ask Congress to grant Kenya the status of "major non-Nato ally," according to a senior administration official.

The label officially confers military and diplomatic privileges on the countries -- currently 18 around the world -- that are so designated, albeit without any formal security guarantees.

Kenya would become the first sub-Saharan African nation on the list.

"Democracy is obviously on the back foot globally and we see Kenya as an important, stable democracy in East Africa," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Hence the pomp and circumstance that awaits Ruto on Thursday -- a day after he met with Biden at the White House -- during a visit expected to touch on the issue of global peace and security, and notably an upcoming role for Kenya in a mission to restore order to chaos-torn Haiti.

Ruto will first be received with military honors in the morning, followed by a bilateral meeting with Biden, then a joint press conference, before a gala dinner featuring the two first ladies.

Distinguished guests will gather in a vast pavilion on the White House lawn, where tables will be adorned with African orchids and American roses.

Lobster and gospel

On the menu: Heirloom tomato soup, fruitwood-smoked beef short ribs and butter-poached lobster, with banana ganache for dessert. Entertainers will include country music star Brad Paisley and a gospel choir.

The White House has promised partnership announcements in health and the battle against climate change, as well as private sector investment.

The two countries will also issue a "joint vision statement" on reducing the mounting debts of developing countries and the handicap it represents for African countries trying to grow their economies.

The conversation will also focus on Haiti, given the imminent arrival of Kenyan police officers at the head of an international force intended to suppress gang-related violence.

A first batch of Kenyan police is expected to make the 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile) journey to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince this week, security sources told AFP, despite a fresh court challenge in Nairobi against the deployment.

Biden held a major summit for African leaders in late 2022, but the 81-year-old has not made good on promises to visit the continent as president.

The Democrat, who will face a rematch against Donald Trump in November, quipped on Wednesday he plans to visit Africa in February -- after winning reelection.

While Africa has often been on the back burner for US diplomacy, the continent has become a growing headache for Washington.

Russia has made growing inroads -- most recently in Niger, where the United States has agreed to withdraw its 1,000 troops -- and war has ravaged countries including Sudan.

The United States also faces competition from China, which has pumped billions in infrastructure money into Africa for the past two decades.

Short link: