Biden and Kenya’s Ruto pledge to protect democracy in Africa and beyond

Biden and Kenya’s Ruto pledge to protect democracy in Africa and beyond

US President Joe Biden hosted Kenyan President William Ruto at the White House on Thursday for a state visit, promising new partnerships in technology, security and debt relief to the leader of one of the world’s largest democracies. strong in Africa.

Ruto’s is the first state visit by an African president to the White House since 2008, a gesture towards the importance of a continent that is home to a billion people and maintains close commercial ties with China, but which ranks behind the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. on Washington’s agenda.

On Thursday night, Ruto was the guest of honor at a lavish state dinner that attracted a wide range of guests, from singer-songwriter Don McLean to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the CEOs of Walmart and Pfizer, as well as like former President Bill Clinton. Former President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, made a brief appearance before the meal.

“We may be divided by distance, but we are united by the same democratic values,” Biden said as he greeted Ruto on the South Lawn of the White House.

Biden recalled his own visits to Kenya as a young man and praised the 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries after Kenya’s independence.

“My visit comes at a time when democracy is perceived to be receding around the world,” Ruto said, alongside Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Cabinet officials. Previously, he had met privately with Biden in the Oval Office.

“We agreed that the United States has an important opportunity to radically recalibrate its strategy and strengthen its support for Africa,” Ruto said. Biden said he would designate Kenya as the first sub-Saharan African country to be a major non-NATO ally. Qatar, Israel and 16 other countries share that designation.

Nairobi and Washington cooperate on the fight against terrorism in Africa, stability in Haiti and support for Ukraine.

Kenya’s president arrived in the United States on Monday and visited Atlanta, then spoke with business executives at the White House on Wednesday. On Friday he will discuss digital inclusion in Africa with Vice President Kamala Harris at an event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce.

Successive US governments have said they wanted to offer African countries a more sustainable and democratic alternative to relations with China and Russia, but Washington has failed to establish deep ties.

The continent’s political landscape has been upended in the past year by a series of military coups, wars and unstable elections that have given China and Russia greater influence.

Biden hopes that strengthening ties with Kenya, considered a democratic stronghold, can help stabilize the continent and advance American interests.

Kenyan President William Ruto visits the United States in Washington

President William Ruto and Joe Biden shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington. Photo: Elizabeth Frantz

In a joint statement, the two leaders said they would work together to support the Somali government in its fight against terrorism and called on warring parties in Sudan to allow humanitarian access to aid and agree to a ceasefire.

GREEN ENERGY, HEALTH OFFERS

The leaders announced new U.S.-backed investments in green energy and healthcare manufacturing, along with a detailed plan to reduce Kenya’s high debt burden, most of it owed to China.

The US International Development Finance Corporation announced $250 million in new investments in Kenya through the US International Development Finance Corporation. That includes $180 million for a major affordable housing project, a U.S. government official said, bringing the U.S. financial institution’s portfolio in Kenya to more than $1. billion.

The two leaders jointly called on the international community to reduce the heavy debt burden of developing countries and do more to support poor countries that want to invest in climate development and technologies.

They also called for the US Congress to pass a bill to renew a trade pact between the United States and Africa.

The humanitarian crisis in Haiti was another focus of attention. Kenya’s plan to deploy 1,000 paramilitary officers to the Caribbean country as part of a UN-backed effort to curb gang violence and hunger has been delayed, sources told Reuters.

On Wednesday, Biden told reporters that he plans to visit Africa in February after the US presidential election, an announcement that assumes the Democratic president will defeat his Republican opponent Donald Trump. Biden had previously committed to making a trip to Africa sometime in 2023.

The dinner was held in a glass pavilion on the White House grounds illuminated by 1,000 candles. The menu included traditional tomato soup, butter-poached lobster, smoked beef short ribs and a white chocolate dessert.

Country singer Brad Paisley headlines the dinner along with the Howard University Gospel Choir, both of which are tributes to Ruto’s musical interests.

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