Biden pledges to designate Kenya as ‘non-NATO ally’ during Ruto visit

US President Biden says he will work with Congress to give Kenya largely symbolic title as two countries deepen ties.

US President Joe Biden speaks as Kenyan President William Ruto applauds during a White House state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 23, 2024 [Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden has pledged to designate Kenya as the country’s first “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) in sub-Saharan Africa as Kenyan President William Ruto makes a state visit to Washington, DC, to deepen ties between the two nations.

During a news conference at the White House on Thursday, Biden said he planned to work with Congress to give Kenya the largely symbolic title.

“That’s a fulfilment of years of collaboration,” he said.

“Our joint counterterrorism operations have degraded ISIS [ISIL] and al-Shabab across East Africa, our mutual support for Ukraine has rallied the world to stand behind the UN Charter, and our work together on Haiti is helping pave the way to reduce instability and insecurity.”

The US has designated 18 countries as non-NATO allies, including Israel, Brazil and the Philippines.

The label reflects Kenya’s rise from a regional partner that has long cooperated with US counterterrorism operations on the continent to a global influence.

Thursday’s announcement came as Ruto and Biden held talks at the White House during the Kenyan leader’s state visit to the US, which began this week.

Kenya's President William Ruto
Ruto speaks during a meeting with the US president and business leaders in the East Room of the White House on May 22, 2024 [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

Reporting from the White House, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett said Ruto’s visit also “marks 60 years of diplomatic ties and cooperation between the United States and Kenya”.

“There are security ties, trade ties, innovation when it comes to technology, also when it comes to global health,” Halkett said.

The Kenyan leader’s trip is the sixth state visit hosted by Biden and the first for an African president since 2008.

This week’s meetings, dubbed the Nairobi-Washington Vision, come amid Biden’s appeals to African nations that the US can be a better partner than China as Beijing deepens its investment in the continent, often through high-interest loans.

In the past year, Africa’s political landscape has been upended by a spate of military coups, wars and shaky elections that have given US rivals China and Russia more significant influence.

The White House talks also were held as a US-backed initiative to send a Kenya-led police force to crisis-hit Haiti appears to be solidifying.

Kenyan officials recently said the deployment, which aims to help the Haitian National Police restore order during a surge in deadly gang violence in the Caribbean nation, is imminent. About 1,000 Kenyan police officers are to take part.

US President Joe Biden and Kenyan President William Ruto shake hands at the White House
Ruto and Biden discussed a Kenyan-led police mission in Haiti, investments, trade and joint military operations during Ruto’s state visit [Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

“We affirm our mutual commitment to the stabilisation of Haiti through the Multinational Security Support Mission,” Ruto said during Thursday’s news conference.

The deployment, Halkett reported, is part of “a longstanding tradition of counterterrorism efforts and cooperation between the United States and Kenya”.

In a joint statement after their talks, Biden and Ruto announced a range of new US-backed investments in green energy and health manufacturing along with a plan to cut Kenya’s high debt load, most of which is owed to China.

The US International Development Finance Corporation this week also announced deals that take its portfolio in Kenya to more than $1bn, the statement said.

“During our discussions, I witnessed firsthand President Biden’s and the US government’s determination to make our partnership work,” Ruto told reporters.

“As my visit comes to a close, I am confident that our engagements have laid a solid foundation for us to continue the good work we have begun with stronger faith and greater hope for success because in Joe Biden, Kenya and Africa have a strong and committed friend.”

Biden, who is seeking re-election in November, has said he plans to visit the African continent in February should he win a second term.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies