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Biden is honoring Kenya with state visit as the East African nation prepares to send police to Haiti

By AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press
Published: May 22, 2024, 9:13am

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is welcoming Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House for a three-day state visit as the East African nation prepares to deploy forces to Haiti as part of U.N.-led effort to try to calm a spiraling security crisis in the Caribbean country.

Some 1,000 Kenyan police officers are set to arrive soon in Haiti, part of a multilateral security support mission that aims to help quell gang violence. Other countries expected to back up Kenyan forces include the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Bangladesh.

The United States for years has partnered with Kenya on counterterrorism efforts in Africa, including battling the extremist group al-Shabab. Kenya has participated in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and an international maritime task force launched by the Biden administration in December in response to Houthi attacks against vessels operating in the Red Sea.

Ruto’s decision send police forces to Haiti was welcomed by a top Biden administration official as an “unprecedented undertaking” and a show of global leadership by Kenya.

Kenya is the first African nation since 2008 to be honored by the U.S. with a state visit.

“This is a partnership that is deep and broad,” White House principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said this week. He added that it starts with combating terrorism in Kenya’s own region in Africa and extends to “becoming a net security provider in our own hemisphere” with the coming deployment to Haiti.

The state visit opens when the two leaders take part in a White House meeting with CEOs in the afternoon that will focus on strengthening ties between the American and Kenyan tech sectors. Executives from Teneo, Alphabet, and Semiconductor Technologies Limited are among those expected to attend, according to the White House.

Biden and Ruto will hold formal talks and a joint news conference on Thursday before a state dinner. Ruto is also set to participate Friday in an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with Vice President Kamala Harris.

Ruto started his U.S. visit in Atlanta, where he visited The King Center, met NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, and stopped by the Tyler Perry Studios.

The U.S. and Kenya are marking their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations. White House officials said the leaders’ agenda will include trade and investment, technological innovation, climate and clean energy, health and security.

Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the two countries would announce “substantial commitments” to elevate Kenya’s technological sector. Kenya hosts Google and Microsoft offices and has positioned itself as the technology hub of East Africa, known as the Silicon Savannah.

Biden gathered dozens of African leaders in Washington in December 2022 to make the case that the United States under his watch was “all in” on Africa’s future and laid out billions in promised government funding and private investment on the continent in health, infrastructure, business and technology. The Democrat also promised to visit sub-Saharan Africa in 2023.

But other priorities got in the way last year, including the Israel-Hamas war and Biden’s long battle with Republicans to renew funding for Ukraine in its war with Russia. The promised visit to Africa by Biden never materialized.

All the while, Russia has tried to expand its economic and military influence across Africa. U.S. troops were recently ordered out of Niger by the West African country’s ruling junta and are expected to complete their withdrawal by the middle of September. Meanwhile, Russia has deployed military trainers to Niger.

The United States has also fallen well behind rival China in investment in Africa, which has become a key battleground in the competition between the major powers.

Biden and his aides say they expect stiff economic competition with Beijing in Africa, but have sought to make the case that Washington is a far more reliable partner in Africa for the long-term.

To that end, Biden acted early in his presidency to devote more attention on Africa than his most recent predecessors, including by hosting nearly 50 leaders for the U.S.-Africa leaders summit in December 2022. But since the summit, analysts say, the administration’s engagement has trailed off.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Africa Program, noted that that Biden has hosted just one African leader, Angola President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, for talks at the White House since the summit.

“This visit today feels a bit like a fig leaf, not just for the Kenyans but for Africa in general, and a kind of a placeholder for the administration to say: All of those things that we said early on in the administration, they all remain true,” Hudson said.

Ruto is looking to use the visit to bolster his standing on the world stage and he believes sending Kenyan police to Haiti will go a long way toward that broader goal, said Macharia Munene, a professor of international relations at the United States International University-Africa.

“Ruto would like to be recognized, particularly in the West as the leader of the Africans. And this kind of recognition boosts that desire,” Munene said.

Ruto has said that with the mission to Haiti, Kenya’s aim is to “formulate actionable strategies that will lead to long-term solutions” in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Haiti has endured poverty, political instability and natural disasters for decades. The U.S. has agreed to provide the U.N.-backed mission direct financial assistance along with training, logistical and material support.

But Ruto’s plan to involve Kenyan police in a crisis thousands of miles away has also been met with some opposition in Nairobi, including legal challenges aimed at blocking the deployment of police forces and long-standing concerns over alleged abuses by police.

International intervention in Haiti has a complicated history. A U.N.-approved stabilization mission to Haiti that started in June 2004 was marred by a sexual abuse scandal and the introduction of cholera, which killed nearly 10,000 people. The mission ended in October 2017.

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