Biden praises Kenyan president for ‘bold leadership’ during state visit

23 May 2024, 22:44

Biden US Kenya
Biden US Kenya. Picture: PA

It is the first state visit to the United States by an African leader for more than 15 years.

US President Joe Biden on Thursday praised Kenya’s William Ruto for “his bold leadership” as the White House marked the first state visit to the United States by an African leader for more than 15 years.

Mr Ruto spoke of building a more promising future.

The Kenyan president and his wife, Rachel Ruto, arrived at the White House for a pomp-filled ceremony aimed at recognising the growing importance of the US-Kenya relationship.

The leaders will later hold talks and a joint news conference before a formal state dinner on the White House grounds.

Biden US Kenya
US President Joe Biden and Kenya’s President William Ruto review the troops with Colonel David Rowland, commander of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, The Old Guard, at the White House (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“Together the United States and Kenya are working together on the challenges that matter most to our peoples lives — health, security, economic security, cybersecurity and climate security,” Mr Biden said at the arrival ceremony.

“Mr President, your bold leadership on this front has been important and significantly impactful.”

Mr Biden and Mr Ruto are using the three-day state visit to Washington, in part, to call on economies around the globe to take action to reduce the enormous debt burden crushing Kenya and other developing nations.

The call to action, termed the Nairobi-Washington Vision, comes as Mr Biden presses his appeal to African nations that the US can be a better partner than economic rival China. Beijing has been deepening its investment on the continent — often with high-interest loans and other difficult financing terms.

Mr Biden and Mr Ruto want creditor nations to reduce financing barriers for developing nations that have been constrained by high debt burdens. They also call on international financial institutions to co-ordinate debt relief and support through multilateral banks and institutions providing better financing terms.

“Today we have an occasion to build synergies, to build partnerships that will not only solve our current problems, but also to build a future that is a much more promising, a much more prosperous, a fairer, a freer, a healthier and a much more prosperous future,” Mr Ruto said.

The White House also announced 250 million dollars (£196 million) in grants for the International Development Association, part of the World Bank, to assist poor countries facing crises.

US Kenya Jill Biden
US first lady Jill Biden and Kenya’s first lady Rachel Ruto tour a classroom where students practice taking blood pressure during a visit to the Advanced Technical Centre in Washington (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Separately, a 1.2 trillion-dollar (£0.94 trillion) government funding bill passed by Congress in March allows the US to lend up to 21 billion dollars (£16.5 billion) to an International Monetary Fund Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust, which provides zero-interest loans to support low-income countries as they work to stabilise their economies, boost growth and improve debt sustainability.

That funding is expected to be made available to the IMF in the coming weeks.

An Associated Press analysis of a dozen countries most indebted to China — including Pakistan, Kenya, Zambia and Laos — found the debt is consuming an ever-greater amount of tax revenue needed to keep schools open, provide electricity and pay for food and fuel.

Behind the scenes is China’s reluctance to forgive debt and its extreme secrecy about how much money it has loaned and on what terms, which has kept other major lenders from stepping in to help.

Kenya’s debt-to-GDP ratio tops 70%, with the bulk of it owed to China. Credit ratings agency Fitch estimates Kenya will spend almost one-third of its government revenues just on interest payments this year.

Mr Ruto said on Wednesday that his talks with Mr Biden will address “how we can have a fairer international financial system where all countries are treated equally”.

Mr Biden was also informing Congress on Thursday that he will designate Kenya a major non-Nato ally, according to the White House

The designation, while largely symbolic, reflects how Kenya has grown from a regional partner that has long co-operated with US counterterrorism operations on the continent to a major global influence — even extending its reach into the Western Hemisphere. Kenya will be the first sub-Saharan African country to receive the status.

Kenya is expected to soon deploy 1,000 police officers to Haiti to help quell gang violence that has ravaged the Caribbean nation for months. The Biden administration has praised Kenya for stepping up in Haiti when so few other countries have agreed to do so.

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation and has been mired in political instability and natural disasters for decades.

Mr Ruto arrived in Washington on Wednesday and began the visit by meeting Mr Biden and tech executives from Silicon Valley and Kenya’s growing tech sector — known as the Silicon Savannah.

Administration officials said that several private sector investments are expected to be announced during the visit. The Kenyan president told the tech executives that Kenya —and Africa more broadly — have a young, innovative populace that is “hungry for opportunities”.

The White House announced it was working with Congress to make Kenya the first country in Africa to benefit from funding through the CHIPS and Science Act, a 2022 law that aims to reinvigorate the computer chip sector within the United States through tens of billions of dollars in targeted government support.

“I think we have a historic moment to explore investment opportunities between Kenya and the United States,” Mr Ruto said.

Guests at a state dinner for Mr and Mrs Ruto on Thursday evening are expected to include actor Levar Burton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, former president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, as well as singer songwriter Don McLean and author Barbara Kingsolver.

By Press Association

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