Biden: Kenya in line to be first sub-Saharan non-NATO ally

By bne IntelliNews May 24, 2024

Kenya could join a list of US allies that are not members of NATO, President Joe Biden said, following a meeting in the Oval Office with his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto on May 23 – amid the first state visit to Washington by an African leader in more than 15 years.

Currently, 18 countries are designated as non-NATO allies, including Israel and the Philippines. Kenya would be the first sub-Saharan African country to receive the designation, which, though largely symbolic, underscores Kenya’s influence as a regional power – and is seen as meant to underscore the Biden administration’s commitment to developing strategic and business ties with African nations.

“I’m proud to announce we’re working with Congress to designate Kenya a major non-NATO ally,” Biden told a joint press briefing at the White House, adding that it was a fulfilment of years of collaboration in joint counter-terrorism operations in the Horn of Africa.

The “major non-NATO-ally” distinction is given to countries whose militaries have strategic working relationships with Washington, though not necessarily mutual defence pacts.

Regarding security in Africa, the Biden and Ruto administrations have said they would work together to support the Somali government in its fight against terrorism and pressed warring parties in Sudan for a ceasefire.

“We agreed on the significant opportunity for the US to radically recalibrate its strategy and strengthen its support for Africa,” Ruto told the press briefing.

Reporting on the significance of Ruto’s state visit, The Washington Post noted that the US has increasingly turned to Kenya as an ally amid strained relations with diplomatic heavyweights Ethiopia (due to US allegations of human rights violations) and South Africa and Egypt, both outspoken crisis of US support for Israel and the latter’s conduct in the war in Gaza.

“So the United States increasingly turns to Kenya: to broker cease-fires and negotiations; contribute to international peacekeeping operations in hot spots such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti; and gain support on topics ranging from Ukraine’s war to climate change,” the newspaper writes.

Ruto’s state visit also comes as 1,000 Kenyan officers prepare to deploy to Haiti to lead a multinational force, backed by $300mn in US support, including logistics, intelligence and an additional $60mn worth of equipment, but not American troops.

Discussions about Haiti were reportedly at the centre of closed-door meetings that Biden held with Ruto, who told reporters his visit comes “at a time when democracy is perceived to be retreating worldwide,” said Ruto.

“Kenya believes that the responsibility of peace and security anywhere in the world, including in Haiti, is the collective responsibility of all nations and all peoples,” he said.

The Haiti mission – which aims to quell rampant gang violence in the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation – will also include support from the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Bangladesh.

For his part, Biden suggested that the decision to have Kenya lead the security mission in Haiti, without troops from the US on the ground, aimed to avoid the fraught history of American intervention in the Caribbean country.

“We concluded that for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented by what we’re trying to do,” Biden told the news conference at the White House.

“We’re in a situation where we want to do all we can without looking like America, once again, is stepping over and deciding this is what must be done,” he added.

Apart from security and defence issues, the two leaders announced a plan called the Nairobi-Washington Vision, part of which calls on creditor nations to reduce financing barriers for developing countries with high debt burdens, and in some cases to offer debt relief. 

Ruto and Biden also called on multilateral banks to offer better financing terms and announced new US-backed investments in green energy and health manufacturing, along with a detailed plan to cut Kenya's own high debt load, the lion's share of which is owed to China.

Later on Thursday, Biden hosted Ruto and Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto at a high-profile State Dinner where guests included former President Barack Obama – whose father was born in Kenya – and his wife, Michelle Obama, along with former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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