Biden hosts Ruto with US set to name Kenya as 'major non-Nato ally'

State visit to Washington is the first by an African leader since 2008

US President Joe Biden with Kenyan President William Ruto at the White House. AP
Powered by automated translation

US President Joe Biden welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House on Thursday for the first state visit by an African leader in 15 years, with discussions on issues including debt relief and the conflicts in Sudan, Haiti and Ukraine.

Mr Biden announced that he was working with Congress to designate the East African country as a major non-Nato ally, the first such designation for a nation in sub-Saharan Africa.

The designation is given to countries outside Nato with which the US military has close working relationships.

“Our joint counter-terrorism operations have degraded ISIS and Al Shabab across East Africa," Mr Biden said at a joint press conference.

"Our mutual support for Ukraine has rallied the world to stand behind the UN Charter and our work together on Haiti is helping pave the way to reduce instability and insecurity."

The move comes as Nairobi prepares to send police to Haiti as part of a UN-led effort to quell gang violence and insecurity in the Caribbean country. The Biden administration lauded the move, which will involve about 1,000 Kenyan police officers.

“Kenya raised its hand when not a lot of other actors did to bring security and stability to Haiti, so we welcome that,” a senior US official said.

The Biden administration has asked Congress to supply Kenya with $300 million towards that effort, as well as $60 million for equipment assistance.

Mr Biden said while there no US forces would be sent to Haiti, Washington would support the mission with logistics, intelligence and equipment.

“During our discussions, we agreed on the significant opportunity for the US to radically recalibrate its strategy and strengthen its support for Africa,” Mr Ruto said after the meeting.

“We affirm our mutual commitment to the stabilisation of Haiti through the multinational security support mission.”

Other items on the agenda included ways to work together on trade and investment, technology, climate, clean energy and health, the White House said.

A state dinner, which will also be attended by first ladies Jill Biden and Rachel Ruto, is to take place in the evening. The visit, which marks the 60th anniversary of official diplomatic relations between the two countries, comes as Nairobi has working to repay a series of high-interest loans to China.

The Biden administration, eager to counter China's rising influence in Africa, used the visit to announce the launch of the Nairobi-Washington Vision, the White House said in a fact sheet. The initiative aims to convince African states that the US is a better economic partner than China.

But the three-day state visit, taking place amid Mr Biden's re-election campaign, has further emphasised the intense partisanship in Washington.

On Wednesday, Mr Ruto met members of Congress, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, an ally of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

But Mr Johnson rejected requests by Democrats to extend an invitation to Mr Ruto to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress.

Updated: May 23, 2024, 8:35 PM