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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Biden welcomes Kenya’s president for state visit

Kenyan President William Ruto is the first African leader to make an official state visit to Washington since 2008.

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto to Washington on Thursday as the East African country prepares to send hundreds of police to Haiti in a U.S.-backed effort to bring order to the beleaguered Caribbean country.

Ruto is at the White House on the second day of his three-day official state visit. It’s the first time an African leader has made such a visit to Washington since President George W. Bush welcomed Ghanaian President John Kufuor in 2008.

“We stand at an inflection point in history, where the decisions we make now will determine the course of our future for decades to come,” Biden said. “Kenya and the United States stand together, committed to each other, committed to our people, and committed to building a better world.”

A focal point of the visit is the forthcoming multinational security support mission that Kenya will lead in Haiti. The country of 11.6 million has no sitting legislature and has not held elections since 2016. Its political instability has continued to deteriorate since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise and gang violence is rampant. 

The U.S. issued a call for a multinational force to deploy to Haiti and Kenya answered the call to lead it. 

Some 1,000 Kenyan police officers, backed up by personnel from the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Bangladesh, will seek to quell gang violence in the island nation and restore order. The U.S. is providing $300 million to support the mission and will conduct intelligence and logistics.

“Kenya believes that the responsibility of peace and security anywhere in the world, including in Haiti, is the collective responsibility of all nations who believe in freedom, self determination, democracy and justice,” Ruto said.

Biden and Ruto fended off suggestions from Kenyan journalists Thursday that the effort commits the country’s personnel to a faraway conflict while domestic needs are ignored. 

“We do not find that the U.S. is committing Kenya because the U.S. cannot commit Kenya,” Ruto said. “I am the president of Kenya. It’s [up to] me to make that decision.”

Biden said it was imperative to avoid deploying U.S. forces in the hemisphere to elude implications that Washington was dictating affairs in its backyard.

It "raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented about what we’re trying to do and be able to be used by those who disagree with us against the interests of Haiti and the United States,” he said.

Another major point of discussion during the visit was Ruto’s call for reform to international lending methods to developing countries, which often have led to large amounts of debts that overwhelm economies and stagnate growth.

In many countries, including Kenya, debt payments are soaking up a large portion of government revenue.

“Too many nations are forced to make a choice between development and debt,” Biden said. “Between investing in their people and paying back their creditors.”

The White House hopes the trip offers a better view of U.S.-Africa relations after a recent series of setbacks for Washington on the continent over the past year. 

The U.S. has announced plans to withdraw its troops from Niger and Chad after disputes with the ruling powers in those countries, jeopardizing counterterrorism efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, a series of military takeovers have put democracy at risk in West Africa, a bloody civil war has been raging in Sudan for more than a year and tensions are high between Ethiopia and Somalia. Elsewhere, the long-running conflict in the Congo has continued and Washington has strained relations with Uganda and Ghana over anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Sensing wavering U.S. influence on the continent, Russia and China are also increasing their presence and relations with African leaders, including investments and loans to developing countries.

Kenya, however, has remained a strong U.S. ally and Ruto’s trip marks the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Kenya relations since the country gained independence from the British. The country has helped with counterterrorism efforts against ISIS and al-Shabab while supporting Ukraine against Russia.

The United States is one of Kenya’s biggest international donors, providing nearly $1.03 billion in fiscal 2022. 

Biden informed Congress on Thursday that he intends to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally, a largely symbolic gesture but one that showcases the administration’s view of its role in Washington’s foreign policy. During his term, Biden has extended the designation to Qatar and Colombia. 

One potential dark spot on the trip is that Ruto won’t be giving a formal speech to a joint session of Congress. The House Foreign Affairs Committee backed such a speech, but House Speaker Mike Johnson declined citing scheduling conflicts. Recent state visits by the prime ministers of India and Japan included a joint address to Congress.

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Categories / Government, International, Politics

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