Biden woos Kenya’s Ruto with state visitThu, 23 May 2024 15:23:56 GMT

President Joe Biden rolled out the red carpet Thursday for his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto, who was making the first state visit to Washington by an African leader in more than 15 years at a time when the United States is losing ground on the continent to China and Russia.In a step to tighten ties with the strategic East African nation, Biden was set to ask Congress to grant Kenya “major non-NATO ally” status. Another 18 countries currently have the status, which prioritizes military and diplomatic links, although without a formal security pact.The visit — including a joint press conference and a lavish White House dinner — 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.Greeting Ruto in front of a colorful honor guard on the White House South Lawn, 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,” Biden said.Ruto, who also underlined Kenya’s democratic record, said he would discuss climate change, debt distress and East African security with Biden.”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.Talks in the Oval Office were also expected to focus 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.- Lobster and gospel choir -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.The White House has promised partnership announcements in health and the battle against climate change, as well as private sector investment.The two countries will also issue 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.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.