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Biden seeks to name Kenya a major non-NATO US ally

The president highlighted Kenya's alliance with the United States as "a fulfillment of years of collaboration" with the aim of making the country a major non-NATO U.S. ally.
Kenya’s President William Ruto with U.S. President Joe Biden
Posted at 6:31 PM, May 23, 2024

President Joe Biden welcomed Kenya’s President William Ruto to the White House Thursday for a state visit, marking 60 years of relations between countries.

The state visit is the first time in more than 15 years that an administration has held such a visit for the leader of an African nation.

During the visit, President Biden announced his intent to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO U.S. ally, calling it "a fulfillment of years of collaboration.”

The step comes as Kenya prepares to send 1,000 officers as part of a U.N.-led multinational security support mission attempting to aid Haitian entities in stemming gang violence that’s gripped the country.

It’s a mission the United States has urged and supported with equipment, intelligence and financing — but not U.S. personnel.

Kenya's William Ruto sits with President Joe Biden at the White House

Politics

White House visit highlights the promise and perils of US-Kenya relationship

Jacob Gardenswartz
3:00 AM, May 23, 2024

President Biden defended his position in a joint press conference, indicating a concern about the appearance of American overreach, but confidence in the mission.

“We concluded that for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented by what we're trying to do, and be able to be used by those who disagree with us and against our, against the interest of Haiti and the United States,” President Biden said. “So we set out to find a partner or partners who would lead that effort that we would participate in, not with American forces, but with supplies and making sure they had what they needed."

However, experts note the mission is not without risks for the leaders.

“There are a lot of concerns that this could go very badly,” said Michelle Gavin, who served as the National Security Council’s senior director for Africa during the Obama administration and now serves as a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. “The U.S.-Kenya relationship could really suffer here if this turns out to be a debacle and the widespread belief is that the U.S. sort of cajoled Kenya into doing something that didn't make a lot of sense.”

Asked about such concerns, a senior administration official told Scripps News on a call Wednesday evening that the White House is “focused right now on getting it right.”

“On the other hand should it be successful it would be quite beneficial for all parties,” said Witney Schneidman, a senior fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative in the Global Economy and Development program at the Brookings Institution.

Ruto said Kenya believes in the collective responsibility of all nations, noting its experience in peacekeeping, "including in very difficult neighborhoods, like what we’re going to face in Haiti,” he said. But Ruto also underscored that Kenya’s role was the country’s decision to make.

The designation reflects a greater role Kenya has sought on global issues and the ongoing security partnership with the United States, while the United States has also sought to deepen ties on the African continent.

“Our partnership has gone from delivering for our nations to delivering for the region and I quite frankly think, delivering for the world. ... This visit is not just about our history, it's about the future and what we're going to do together,” President Biden told Ruto as they met in the Oval Office.

The leaders sought to spur the international community to open greater opportunities for low- and middle-income countries facing debt distress, unveiling an initiative known as the Nairobi-Washington Vision. The U.S. announced more grant resources through the World Bank and greater lending capacity at the International Monetary Fund.

China, officials acknowledged, is Kenya’s largest bilateral creditor. While officials appeared to downplay their focus on China, which has sought greater influence in Africa, experts in the region noted the competition.

“There is an element of the U.S. really needing to step up its delivery of tangible actions on the continent,” said Schneidman.

Shneidman called the visit “an important building block,” noting it sets an important tone.

Ruto highlighted the opportunity for the U.S. to strengthen support for Africa.

The leaders also focused on climate action, economic ties and technological cooperation, of which President Biden announced the administration's efforts to work with Congress to deliver CHIPS Act funding to Kenya.

Ruto is expected to have an engagement with Vice President Kamala Harris and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Kenya ultimately has a lot of fundamentals that are attractive to business,” Kendra Gaither, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s U.S.-Africa Business Center, told Scripps News, describing the nation as an “engine of growth for the world.”