6/13/2024
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White House welcomes Kenya for first African state visit


By Anita Powell
Tuesday May 21, 2024


Frances Brown, the newly appointed director for African affairs at the National Security Council, on May 20, 2024.

The White House says it chose Kenya for its first state visit for an African leader for many reasons — not least because the East African powerhouse has stepped up on the global stage, offering to staff a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Haiti that could see boots on the ground as early as this week.

VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell sat down with Frances Brown, the newly appointed director for African affairs at the National Security Council, ahead of a state visit by Kenyan President William Ruto. They discussed a range of issues, including technology, climate management, debt relief, democracy, health and more.

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The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: In a few days, President Joe Biden hosts Kenyan President William Ruto at the White House, his first African leader for a state visit. Why was Kenya chosen and what deliverables can we expect?

Frances Brown, NSC director for African affairs: We chose Kenya for a few reasons. No. 1 is the Kenya-U.S. partnership has really grown from a regionally focused one to a globally focused one. ... and we see a lot of complementarities in terms of what we're trying to do on climate. What we're trying to do on debt for the developing world, and on security issues.

The second reason we wanted to have this state visit with Kenya is that we are both democracies, and our bond is very deep as democracies, and our bond is very deep on people-to-people ties.

The third reason is that Kenya and the U.S. really work similarly in terms of bringing in the private sector to solve global challenges. So, we'll be talking a lot about those. The deliverables you'll see are in the realms of technology, clean energy and climate transition, of debt relief, of democracy, of people-to-people ties and on health-related issues.

VOA: Kenya hopes to soon have peacekeepers in Haiti. Why is this so important to the administration?

Brown: We do really welcome the Kenyans raising their hand to help lead this multinational security support mission in Haiti, because it's kind of an example of what I just mentioned of Kenya raising its hand to solve problems even outside of its region. ... As you may know, there's been planning under way for a number of months. It has included policing experts from around the world working to develop a concept of operations. Kenya is not going it alone. The U.S. has provided $300 million towards this, so it's a big thing for us.

VOA: Are there any other security agreements these two countries might come up with during the state visit?

Brown: I would say watch this space, because I think security cooperation with Kenya is a really important plank.

VOA: Is it going to be focused on threats from Somalia or from other parts of East Africa?

Brown: The U.S. and Kenya have long cooperated on Somalia. I think you can look for security-related announcements that go beyond that.

VOA: U.S. troops are pulling out of the Sahel and the so-called “Coup Belt.” What are the concerns the administration has about security in the Sahel region, especially as Russia expands its footprint there?

Brown: As has been widely reported, we are making an orderly withdrawal from Niger. I will say that is pretty consistent with our administration’s [counterterrorism] posture in general that we have made changes to our posture that are consistent with our CT policy. It is no secret that democracy is on the backfoot in a lot of places globally.

If you talk to democracy scholars, democracy is on something like its 20th year of global decline. So, Africa is not alone in this regard. The Biden administration is focused on lifting up and partnering with democracies to help them deliver.

You may have seen USAID’s initiative on democracy delivering. We're working with a few African countries on that. And I think this is, again, something that we'll be talking a lot to the Kenyans with, because President Ruto has talked about the imperative of democracy delivering.

VOA: Regarding issues of trade and the African Growth and Opportunity Act — obviously, this is going to be a decision made by Congress, but how does the administration feel about the benefits of trade and of barrier-free trade with the United States?

Brown: President Biden has been really vocal that he sees AGOA reauthorization and AGOA modernization as a huge priority. It has been huge, I think from our perspective, but also from the perspective of the region. It's something we hear a lot about from our Kenyan partners. We do look to Congress for that. But as you know, reauthorization is due next year, and obviously we hope that things can get in motion before then.

VOA: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — which has been a literal lifesaver for people around the African continent — is up for renewal next year. How does the White House see this program as contributing to national security?

Brown: We see PEPFAR as essential. And as you know, PEPFAR has been supported with bipartisan congressional support and across administrations since the George W. Bush initiative initially. We think PEPFAR is delivering for people across the continent, and we've been proud to support it, and we look for reauthorization.

VOA: When is President Biden going to visit Africa, and where will he go?

Brown: So, I cannot make news at this moment by announcing presidential travel. But what I will say is thus far, I think President Biden's commitment to the relationship with the continent is pretty clear. If you think about Kenya, it's the first state visit that we're giving to a non-G20 country this term. There's only been five other state visits. ... But then you just look at the steady stream of Cabinet official travels to the continent over the past two years — by our count, there's 24 principals or Cabinet-level officials who've made that trip, all of them bringing their own agenda.

I'd also say just in terms of the other ways President Biden has shown his commitment, advocating for AU [African Union] membership with the G20 has been huge. Advocating for more African seats and international financial institutions and all the other transformative investment.

VOA: You’ve just joined the NSC in this capacity. What priorities do you bring to this post?

Brown: I think I see this post as moving forward on the affirmative agenda that President Biden laid out first, and the Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy, which was published at the end of 2021. Then the African Leaders Summit, which came at the end of 2022. There were a lot of initiatives launched by those two events. Now we are running forward on implementation.

At the same time, of course, at the NSC, the urgent sometimes competes with the important, so of course, we're seized with managing crises. And we're really sobered by the crises that are happening in many parts of the continent. So, I see my role as a balance between those two, and I'm thrilled to be on board.



 





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