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US to designate Kenya as ‘non-NATO ally’ during Ruto’s state visit

Thursday May 23, 2024

US President Biden welcomes Kenyan counterpart to the White House, pledging to deepen economic ties and investments.

US President Joe Biden speaks as Kenyan President William Ruto applauds during an official White House State Arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 23, 2024 [Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

The United States plans to designate Kenya as the country’s first key non-NATO ally in sub-Saharan Africa as Kenyan President Willam Ruto makes a state visit to Washington, DC, to deepen ties between the two nations.

The White House said US President Joe Biden will inform Congress on Thursday that he will give Kenya the largely symbolic title.

Currently, the US has 18 countries designated as non-NATO allies, including Israel, Brazil and the Philippines.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday morning, Ruto said his trip to the US capital is “a sign of friendship and partnership and collaboration between two countries that share common values”, including freedom and democracy.

“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 much more promising, much more prosperous,” the Kenyan president said.

Ruto’s visit to the US, which began earlier this week, will see the Kenyan leader hold talks with Biden at the White House later on Thursday.

The “non-NATO ally” label will reflect Kenya’s rise from a regional partner that has long cooperated with US counterterrorism operations on the continent to a global influence.

Reporting from the White House on Thursday morning, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett said Ruto’s visit also “marks 60 years of diplomatic ties and cooperation between the United States and Kenya”.

“There are security ties, trade ties, innovation when it comes to technology, also when it comes to global health,” Halkett said.

The Kenyan leader’s trip is the sixth state visit hosted by the Biden administration and the first for an African president since 2008.

This week’s meetings, dubbed the Nairobi-Washington Vision, come amid Biden’s appeals to African nations that the US can be a better partner than China, as Beijing deepens its investment in the continent, often with high-interest loans.

In the past year, Africa’s political landscape has been upended by a spate of military coups, wars and shaky elections that have given US rivals China and Russia more significant influence.

The White House talks also come as a US-backed initiative to send a Kenya-led police force to crisis-hit Haiti appears to be solidifying.

Kenyan officials recently said the deployment, which aims to help the Haitian National Police restore order amid a surge in deadly gang violence in the Caribbean nation, is imminent. About 1,000 Kenyan police officers are set to take part.

The deployment to Haiti, Al Jazeera’s Halkett reported on Thursday, is part of “a longstanding tradition of counterterrorism efforts and cooperation between the United States and Kenya”.

Meanwhile, Biden and Ruto are expected to announce new US-backed investments in green energy and health manufacturing, along with a plan to cut Kenya’s high debt load, most of which is owed to China, the White House said in a fact sheet.

The US will also announce $250m in new investments in Kenya through the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).

That includes $180m for a major affordable housing project and would bring the US financing agency’s portfolio in Kenya to more than $1bn.

“Across the region, Kenya and America are driving a race to the top with investments that we have and high standards for workers,” Biden said during the news conference on Thursday morning.

“And we’re trying to make sure debt doesn’t leave these critical investments and crucial investments out of reach in low- and middle-income countries.”

Biden, who is seeking re-election in November, has said he plans to visit the African continent in February 2025 should he win a second term.


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