Biden to designate Kenya a major non-NATO ally

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President Joe Biden shakes hands with Kenya’s President William Ruto at the end of a news conference in the East Room of the White House on May 23, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

U.S. President Joe Biden rolled out the red carpet on May 23 for his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto, unveiling plans during a lavish state visit to name Kenya a major non-NATO ally as Washington competes for influence on the continent against Moscow and Beijing.

Kenya will become the first sub-Saharan African nation to receive the designation, which is currently held by another 18 countries including Ukraine and boosts military and diplomatic links, although without a formal security pact.

Mr. Ruto’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, Ruto build on partnership

Greeting Mr. Ruto earlier in front of a colourful honour guard on the White House South Lawn,Mr. Biden emphasized that the two countries are “united by the same democratic values.”

“We are stronger and the world is safer when Kenya and the United States work together,” he said. He hailed the East African nation’s role in fighting the Islamic State extremist group and Al-Shabaab jihadists in neighboring Somalia.

Mr. Ruto, who underlined Kenya’s democratic record, said he would discuss climate change, debt distress and East African security with the American president. “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,” he said.

The leaders, in a joint statement, said that Mr. Biden “announced his intent to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally.” “This is a powerful symbol of the close relationship our two countries share,” the leaders said in the statement.

Haiti crisis, climate change, financial distress discussed

Talks in the Oval Office also focused on Kenya’s leadership of an upcoming international police mission to Haiti, where months of gang violence and political chaos have left the tiny Caribbean nation in humanitarian crisis.

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

The two countries also announced partnership announcements in health and the battle against climate change, as well as private sector investment.

They 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.

Renewed focus on Africa

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

The Democrat, who faces a rematch against Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, quipped on Wednesday that he does plan to visit Africa, next February when starting a new term.

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.

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