Biden rolls out the red carpet for Kenya’s President William Ruto and vows to ‘unite’


President Joe Biden greeted Kenyan President William Ruto with full military honors during an elaborate arrival ceremony that is a start of the first state visit for an African leader since 2008.

Ruto, 57, leads an east African democracy noted for its stability in a region torn by civil war, militias, and pitched battles for resources.

The president is set to ask Congress to give Kenya a special ‘major non-NATO’ U.S. ally designation in the latest effort to keep the regional power close and demonstrate to other nations some of the benefits of U.S. cooperation.

It is the first sub-Saharan nation to get it. 

‘Kenya and America are also standing united against the terror of ISIS and al-Shabaab … that they continue to perpetrate in east Africa. The aggression that Russia is inflicting on Ukraine. The violence that has toppled too many democracies across both our regions … The past is our proof that we are stronger and the world is safer when Kenya and the United States work together.’

‘Democracy is obviously on the back foot globally and we see Kenya as an important, stable democracy in East Africa,’ said a senior administration official in advance of the visit.

The new status is directed ‘towards elevating and really acknowledging that Kenya is already a global partner of ours,’ a senior administration official told reporters.

Kenya's First Lady Rachel Ruto, Kenya's President William Ruto stand with US President Joe Biden and US First Lady Jill Biden attended the arrival ceremony. 'Violence toppled too many democracies across both our regions,' Biden said, as he prepares to inform Congress of a new allied status for the east African country

Kenya’s First Lady Rachel Ruto, Kenya’s President William Ruto stand with US President Joe Biden and US First Lady Jill Biden attended the arrival ceremony. ‘Violence toppled too many democracies across both our regions,’ Biden said, as he prepares to inform Congress of a new allied status for the east African country

Biden spoke about the day Kenya gained independence 60 years ago, reading from printed remarks.

‘That new democracy is endearing and enduring,’ he said.

U.S. forces have spent years battling ISIS forces, and al-Shabaab continues its insurgency in neighboring Somalia. 

‘This is the first state visit by an African head of state in nearly 20 years. It is long overdue,’ White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters in advance of Thursday’s events.

The visit marks 60 years of a U.S.-Kenya partnership ‘founded on shared values, deep cooperation, and a common vision for the future,’ according to a White House fact sheet. 

The big event on the schedule is a lavish state dinner for 500 inside a huge tent on the South Lawn. Former President Barack Obama, who has Kenyan roots, is not expected to attend, but a clutch of bold-faced names and deep pocketed donors are expected this election year.

Business is on the table as well. Kenya’s highway authority announced an agreement with U.S. firm Everstrong Capital for a $3.6 billion highway construction agreement linking the capital of Nairobi with Mombasa.  

‘The project anticipates attracting investments totalling $3.6 billion, sourced from international investors, development agencies, pension funds and an exceptionally large number of Kenyan private investors,’ said Everstrong in a statement.

Biden approached a podium to speek before catching himself and waiting for a military honor guard

Biden approached a podium to speek before catching himself and waiting for a military honor guard

The White House packed the South Lawn with visitors for the event

The White House packed the South Lawn with visitors for the event

First lady Jill Biden held the president's hand after his remarks

First lady Jill Biden held the president’s hand after his remarks

Ruto was greeted with military honors in a visit that highlights the importance of the democratic ally in a region filled with conflict

Ruto was greeted with military honors in a visit that highlights the importance of the democratic ally in a region filled with conflict

The ceremony featured military bands and a fife and drum corps

The ceremony featured military bands and a fife and drum corps

White House and National Park Service staff prepare for the official state arrival ceremony for Kenyan President William Ruto on the South Lawn

White House and National Park Service staff prepare for the official state arrival ceremony for Kenyan President William Ruto on the South Lawn

Biden promised in December 22 to visit Africa the following year, but that hasn’t happened. 

Sullivan isn’t getting pinned down on an exact timeframe. ‘He intends to do so as president of the United States,’ he said Wednesday.

Ruto is considered an ‘international operator,’ and Kenya’s troops are set to lead an international peacekeeping effort designed to bring a measure of stability to Haiti.

The morning ceremony was attended by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and other top officials.

Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto arrived in a black SUV. The Bidens greeted them, with first lady Jill Biden pointing to her counterpart where to stand.

The group then greeted Vice President Harris and other officials of both governments.

At one point, after viewing gathered U.S. troops with Ruto, Biden walked up to the lectern as if to speak, then corrected himself and waited for a fife and drum corps to perform.

Ruto began his remarks with a greeting in Swahili. ‘Jambo,’ he said. He called Kenya a ‘proud democratic nation, and mentioned challenges of climate change and ‘debt distress.’ 



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