Actors, musicians and politicians join White House state dinner honouring Kenya

24 May 2024, 00:44

Biden US Kenya
Biden US Kenya. Picture: PA

The dinner comes at a delicate time for Washington’s relationship with Africa.

The White House has hosted one of its biggest state dinners for Kenyan President William Ruto.

Thursday’s dinner, which was tailored to the African leader’s tastes, showcased two American types of music: gospel and country.

Guests arrived at a red carpet rolled out at the Booksellers area of the White House, decked out with red roses and hot pink orchids while Toto’s hit Africa played on the violin.

Invitees included actor LeVar Burton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, the ex-secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, together with her former top aide Huma Abedin.

Biden US Kenya State Dinner
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcome Kenya’s President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto to the White House (Susan Walsh/AP)

Other actors on the guest list were Wilmer Valderrama, Sean Penn and Michaela Coel. Democratic leaders included Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, who said she was “looking forward to having all the conversations.”

Singer-songwriter Don McLean arrived in an early wave of guests, as did Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, set in Africa.

President Joe Biden expected up to 500 guests at the first White House state dinner for an African nation since 2008, the sixth and largest of the state dinners his administration has hosted.

The festivities are part of the administration’s efforts to build ties with Africa after Mr Biden failed to keep a promise to visit the continent last year.

This week, he said he plans to visit “in February, after I’m re-elected” — a show of optimism about his prospects in November’s election.

Biden US Kenya State Dinner
President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto are welcomed to the White House (Susan Walsh/AP)

The dinner comes at a delicate time for Washington’s relationship with Africa, following a coup in Niger where the military government has ordered US troops to withdraw from that country, and amid efforts by China and Russia to expand their African political and economic influence.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, a long-time leading Democratic voice and former presidential candidate, was asked while arriving about the president’s chances against presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

He responded that “democracy is going to win in ’24” while adding that Africa has not been properly recognised on the world stage, which made Thursday night’s dinner especially important.

First Lady Jill Biden said the dinner entertainment was chosen to honour Mr Ruto and his wife, Rachel, for their “love of gospel and country music.”

Kenya last had a White House state dinner in 2003. No African nation has had one since President George W Bush honoured then Ghana President John Kufuor five years after that.

The Bidens hosted post-pandemic state dinners for France, South Korea and India, featuring the Biden administration’s previous attendance high of nearly 400 guests. It was the same for Australia in October and Japan last month.

By Press Association

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