Washington [US], May 24: U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House for a state visit, pledging a new era of partnership on technology, security and debt relief to the leader of one of Africa's strongest democracies.
Ruto's is the first state visit by an African president to the White House since 2008, as Washington seeks to deepen relations with the continent. The U.S. recently has been focused on wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and China has become Africa's biggest bi-lateral trading partner.
"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 noted the U.S. and Kenya are celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations after Kenya's independence.
"My visit takes place at a time when democracy is perceived to be retreating worldwide," Ruto said, standing with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other cabinet officials. Earlier, he had met privately with Biden in the Oval Office.
"We agreed on the significant opportunity for the U.S. to radically recalibrate its strategy and strengthen its support for Africa," Ruto said.
He called Biden "a strong and committed friend" to Kenya and the rest of the continent. The White House said Biden would designate Kenya as the first sub-Saharan African country to be a major non-NATO ally. Currently, Qatar, Israel and 16 other countries share that designation.
"That's a fulfillment of years of collaboration," Biden said, including fighting terrorism in Africa, stability in Haiti and supporting Ukraine.
The Kenyan president arrived in the U.S. on Monday and visited Atlanta, Georgia, then spoke with business executives in the White House on Wednesday. On Thursday evening, he was to be guest of honor at a lavish state dinner.
Successive U.S. 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 real ties.
The continent's political landscape has been upended in the past year by a spate of military coups, wars and shaky elections that have given China and Russia greater influence. Biden hopes strengthening ties with Kenya, seen as a democratic stronghold, can help stabilize the continent and advance U.S. interests.
In a joint statement, the two leaders said they would work together to support the Somali government in its fight against terrorism and asked warring parties in Sudan to allow humanitarian access to aid and agree to a ceasefire.
The leaders announced new U.S.-backed investments in green energy and health manufacturing, along with a detailed plan to cut Kenya's high debt load, most of it owed to China.
The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation announced $250 million in new investments in Kenya through the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. That includes $180 million for a major affordable housing project, a U.S. government official said, bringing the U.S. financing institution's portfolio in Kenya to over $1 billion.
The two leaders made a joint call for the international community to reduce the heavy debt burden of developing countries and do more to support poor countries that want to invest in development and climate technologies.
They also called for the US Congress to pass a bill to renew a U.S. - Africa trade pact.
The humanitarian crisis in Haiti was another focus. Kenya's plan to deploy 1,000 paramilitary officers to the Caribbean country as part of a U.N.-backed effort to curb gang violence and hunger has been delayed, sources told Reuters.
On Wednesday, Biden told reporters he plans to visit Africa in February after the U.S. presidential election, an announcement that presumes the Democratic president will defeat his Republican opponent Donald Trump. Biden had earlier pledged to make a trip to Africa sometime in 2023.
Ruto will be celebrated at a dinner lit by 1,000 candles and a menu of heirloom tomato soup, butter-poached lobster, smoked beef short ribs and a white chocolate dessert.
Country singer Brad Paisley will headline the dinner along with Howard University's Gospel Choir, both of which are tributes to Ruto's musical interests.
Source: Fijian Broadcasting Corporation