Biden woos Kenya’s Ruto with major ally status on state visit

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US President Joe Biden said he would make Kenya a major non-NATO ally Thursday as he hosted Kenyan counterpart William Ruto for a lavish state visit aimed at competing with Russia and China for influence in Africa.

Rolling out the red carpet with a gala dinner and an Oval Office meeting, Biden matched pomp with a string of deals on security, climate and debt for the first African leader to receive a Washington state visit in 15 years.

Announcing his plan to make Kenya the first major non-NATO ally in sub-Saharan Africa, Biden said the move was the “fulfillment of years of collaboration” against the Islamic State group and Al-Shabaab jihadists in Somalia.

The move, which will see Kenya join 18 other such allies including Israel, Brazil and Ukraine, boosts military and diplomatic links, although without a formal security pact.

Biden also thanked Kenya for agreeing to lead an upcoming international police mission to Haiti, where months of gang violence have left the tiny Caribbean nation on America’s doorstep in a political and humanitarian crisis.

Ruto said that “in Joe Biden, Kenya and Africa have a strong and committed friend.”


– Back foot –


The Kenyan president’s visit comes as the United States and ally France are on the back foot in Africa, where massive Chinese investments and aggressive use by Russia of shadowy paramilitary groups are changing the geopolitical balance.

Biden and Ruto repeatedly stressed common “democratic values” and their desire to share leadership on issues of climate change, political instability and debt distress.

Greeting Ruto earlier in front of a colorful honor guard on the White House South Lawn, Biden said that “we are stronger and the world is safer when Kenya and the United States work together.”

“I am confident, Mr President, that the partnership of the United States and Kenya will give us the solutions that the world so seriously needs,” replied Ruto as a light rain fell.

The two leaders also issued 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 81-year-old US president further welcomed Ruto’s “mutual support” for Ukraine, which is one of the current 18 non-NATO allies and is receiving Western military aid as it battles Russia’s invasion.


– Lobster and gospel choir –


But as with any state visit to the White House — Biden has hosted the leaders of Japan and Australia in the last eight months alone — the symbolism was as important as the deliverables.

The two leaders posed with US First Lady Jill Biden and Ruto’s wife Rachel on the White House balcony, strolled through the famed colonnades and shook hands ahead of their talks in the Oval Office.

The state dinner was to feature heirloom tomato soup, fruitwood-smoked beef short ribs and lobster, with banana ganache for dessert.

Entertainers will include country music star Brad Paisley and a gospel choir.

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

The Democrat, who faces a tight rematch against Donald Trump in November’s US presidential election, quipped on Wednesday when Ruto arrived that “I plan on going in February after I’m reelected.”

Africa has often been on the back burner for US diplomats but the continent now presents a growing headache in Washington.

Russia has established new footholds — most recently in Niger, where the United States has agreed to withdraw its 1,000 troops, while Russian troops come in.

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

Ruto’s White House visit meanwhile represents a major turnaround for the Kenyan, who was previously accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity over violence after Kenya’s 2007-8 election.

The case was dropped after the prosecutor complained of a campaign of witness intimidation.


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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