Home News Kenyan President’s State Visit: An Antidote to America’s Troubles in Africa?

Kenyan President’s State Visit: An Antidote to America’s Troubles in Africa?


Kenyan President William Ruto arrived in Washington on Wednesday for a three-day state visit aimed at showcasing America’s staunch alliance on the continent as other African countries become disillusioned with democracy or tempted by rivals and turn away from the United States.

a series of military coupsUnsettled elections and violent wars have upended Africa’s political landscape over the past year, giving Africa an edge US competitors such as Russia and China, but also crushed Washington’s key selling point: democratic delivery.

exist Niger, recently established military junta U.S. troops have been asked to leave. Relations with once-staunch U.S. allies such as South Africa and Ethiopia are decidedly frosty. A Senegal’s recent electionslong considered a beacon of stability, Almost cheated.

The Biden administration hopes Mr Ruto is the antidote to these problems.

Ruto, 57, has brought East Africa’s economic powerhouse Kenya closer to the United States since coming to power two years ago. This visit is the sixth state visit by the Biden administration and the first visit by an African president since 2008.

In some ways, President Biden is atoning for broken promises. In December 2022, at the high-profile Africa Summit in Washington, Biden announced that he was “all in” on Africa and pledged to visit the continent next year. The trip never materialized.

By selecting Mr Ruto, the Biden administration has confirmed that it considers Kenya’s leader one of its closest security, diplomatic and economic partners in Africa.

The two countries work closely to combat al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. U.S. corporate giants such as Google have significant operations in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which is also at the center of diplomatic efforts to end chaos in neighboring countries such as Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Soon, Kenya is expected to begin deploying 1,000 paramilitary police to help quell unrest in Haiti – dangerous mission The project is largely funded by the United States, and Ruto would face significant political risks if Kenyans were injured or killed.

Mr. Ruto has deftly won over the United States for his outspoken advocacy on global issues such as debt relief, reform of international financial institutions and climate change, and has sought to build a reputation as Africa’s premier statesman on those issues.

“We live in a climate change nightmare every day,” he told The New York Times on Sunday, hours before flying to the United States, where nearly 300 Kenyans have died in the past month. Heavy rains hit the countrytriggering floods and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

“A year ago we were in a severe drought,” he said in an interview in an open pavilion next to his official residence, State House, in Nairobi, as thunder rolled and rainfall increased. “This is true for many countries on the African continent.”

It has not been many years since Mr Ruto was considered part of Kenya’s problems. Ten years ago he was Tried at the International Criminal Court, faces accusations of orchestrating post-election violence that left more than 1,100 Kenyans dead. The United States supports the prosecution, seeing it as an opportunity to end impunity among Kenya’s political class.

But the trial collapsed in 2016 when witnesses disappeared or their testimonies changed, and domestic trials have been overshadowed by Ruto’s electoral victories: he was elected vice president in 2013 and 2018 and president in 2022.

“A lot of things were said about who we are in that episode,” he said, referring to former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who faced similar charges. “But doesn’t it surprise you that at the end of the day we were elected by the very people we were accused of harming? That tells you the whole narrative is wrong.”

A US official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Mr Ruto was privately urged early in the visit to indirectly confront what he called the “ICC hangover”. In his first speech on Monday at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library in Atlanta, he vowed to put Kenya “on the path to an open society, with a strong commitment to greater accountability and transparency and the active participation of civil society.”

Mr Ruto also needs this trip to succeed. He has made about 50 trips abroad since 2022 to drum up support for his ideas, but his popularity at home has plummeted. Facing a crippling debt crisis – Kenya owes about $77 billion – Mr Ruto has proposed tax increases, prompting protests from citizens.

Some Kenyans call him “Zakayo,” a reference to the biblical tax collector Zacchaeus. The reference made him smile. “I have been very honest with the people of Kenya that I cannot continue to borrow money,” he said, predicting that he would eventually win over his critics.

Still, time is running out and Mr. Ruto’s big idea to turn around the economy is to ride the green energy wave. More than 90% of Kenya’s energy comes from renewable sources (mainly wind power and geothermal springs), and Mr. Ruto hopes to use this natural advantage to transform Kenya into an industrial powerhouse.

He wants foreign companies to move to Kenya where their products will be carbon neutral. He also views Kenya as a giant carbon sink, using emerging industries to suck carbon from the atmosphere and then bury it deep in the rock formations of the East African Rift Valley.

How do we transform Africa from a continent of potential to a continent of opportunity and ultimately a continent of investment?” he said. Last month, Microsoft and two other companies Announce They are building a 1-gigawatt data center in Naivasha, 40 miles northwest of Nairobi, powered by renewable energy.

Still, Mr. Ruto’s embrace of Washington and democracy has not been universally popular in Africa. Disillusionment with fake elections and corrupt elites has led young people to support recent military coups in countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

“There is a widespread perception that democracy has not delivered, that the elites that came to power through elections have not delivered democracy,” said Muriti Mutiga, Africa director at the International Crisis Group. However, he added that Kenya’s example of stability and steady growth was proof that while democracy could be “messy, difficult, noisy and hard,” it still worked.

Mr. Ruto plans to spend much of Wednesday with lawmakers. On Thursday, he laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery before meeting with Mr. Biden and a state dinner at the White House. Critics charge that such pomp and prestige is a major reward for a first-term president with strong authoritarian tendencies.

Last year, Mr Ruto launched a public attack on judges whose rulings blocked his policies, reigniting concerns that he could eventually take Kenya down an authoritarian path.

Like other African leaders, he is not afraid to take on foreign suitors.

Last year, to the dismay of the United States, Mr Ruto hosted Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi. Killed in helicopter crash and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov on Sunday. In October, Ruto flew to Beijing for a three-day state visit to China.

Ruto denies that he is a favorite of the West or anyone else.

“This is not taking sides,” he said. “This is about interests. There is absolutely no contradiction in working with different countries. It’s just common sense.”

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