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Biden Will Designate Kenya as a Key Ally as Its Leader Visits

President Biden on Thursday said he would designate Kenya as a “major non-NATO ally,” a move that reflects the president’s determination to deepen relations with the East African nation even as other countries — including Russia and China — are racing to do the same.

At a news conference with President William Ruto of Kenya in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, Mr. Biden said the relationship between the two countries would allow them to confront issues of health, security, technology and debt.

“Taken together, these are responsibilities Kenya and America must face together, as partners,” Mr. Biden said, “for prosperity, for innovation, and most important for democracy.”

Mr. Biden said he would inform Congress of his intention to make the alliance designation, as required by law, as he hosted Mr. Ruto with a formal state dinner. The distinction is given to countries whose militaries have strategic working relationships with the United States, though not necessarily mutual defense pacts. Kenya would be the first sub-Saharan African country to have such a designation.

“This is a powerful symbol of the close relationship our two countries share, and we welcome the increased cooperation on security and mutual priorities this action signals,” the two leaders said in a joint statement before the news conference.

The diplomatic move, and the daylong celebration of the six-decade U.S.-Kenyan relationship, is meant to underscore Mr. Biden’s commitment to Africa despite having failed to make good on a promise to travel personally to the continent by the end of this year.

As he greeted Mr. Ruto upon his arrival in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden officially reneged on that promise, telling him that he intended to visit the continent “in February, after I am re-elected.” For months, Mr. Biden’s aides had ducked questions about whether he would travel to Africa during a busy election year.

Mr. Biden planned to use this week’s state visit to express gratitude to Mr. Ruto for agreeing to lead a multinational security force to help stabilize Haiti, where gangs continue to terrorize the island’s citizens following the assassination of the country’s president in 2021.

But the American president and his advisers are also eager to demonstrate that he remains focused on the importance of building ties with Kenya and other nations in Africa, hoping to win what has become an increasingly intense competition with China and Russia to secure trade and other victories with the resource-rich countries.

“We are launching a new era of economic cooperation between Kenya and America,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday evening during a meeting in the East Room with Mr. Ruto and executives from 10 companies. “My message is really straightforward and simple: Thank you. Thank you. And keep it up.”

Mr. Ruto’s day at the White House marked the first state visit of an African leader since 2008 and was designed to be full of both official meetings and the glittery pomp that presidents reserve for the closest of allies.

In addition to the closed-door meetings and the joint news conference, the White House has scheduled a state dinner for Thursday evening. There will be a feast with heirloom tomato soup, butter-poached lobster, fruitwood-smoked short ribs and a white chocolate basket.

Hanging over the guests will be a centerpiece featuring 15,000 pieces of metallic strips, reflecting candlelight in the State Dining Room. Musical guests will include the Howard Gospel Choir and country singer Brad Paisley.

But the main purpose of the visit for Mr. Biden is to demonstrate that he remains resolved to build connections between the United States and African businesses and governments.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden and Mr. Ruto held a roundtable discussion with the executives at the White House, a prelude to the full day of meetings and social events during Thursday’s official state visit.

The meeting on Wednesday afternoon was designed to showcase Kenya’s desire to expand its role as a hub of technology and commerce in East Africa. Already, the country hosts $1 billion worth of startup companies dubbed the “Silicon Savanna,” in reference to its grasslands.

The company executives who met with Mr. Biden and Mr. Ruto included Ruth Porat, president and chief information officer for Alphabet and Google; Ursula Burns, chairwoman of Teneo; and Kamau Gachigi, the executive director of Gearbox.

“You’ll see President Biden and President Ruto commit to deepening our partnership on critical and emerging technologies,” said Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, “on improving health, on fighting climate change, on supporting civil society, on enhancing peace and security and, of course, on enriching the people-to-people ties between the United States and Kenya.”

American officials said on Wednesday evening that the two presidents would make several economic announcements on Thursday, including a semiconductor partnership that aims to make Kenya the first country in Africa to receive funding from the CHIPS Act, which Mr. Biden helped push through Congress.

“I can’t think of a better way to kick off this visit,” Mr. Biden said of the economic meeting on Wednesday, before recalling a trip he had made to Kenya as vice president. He praised the innovative spirit of the Kenyan people and noted the longstanding ties between the two countries.

“Nowhere is it more important than the realm of innovation,” he said. “That’s why we have so many business leaders around this table.”

Mr. Ruto has been criticized in his country for moves against judges that some said were authoritarian in nature. And he has welcomed outreach from the leaders of Iran, Russia and China — American adversaries whose military, political and economic interests often clash with those of Washington.

Mr. Ruto has shrugged off those criticisms, saying that it makes sense to have connections with many countries where there are mutual interests. Mr. Sullivan told reporters on Wednesday that Mr. Biden did not shy away from criticizing countries for their human rights or civil society records.

“He’s not here to lecture President Ruto,” he added, however. “President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues. And we will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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