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Biden welcomes Kenya’s Ruto to White House with investments, promises

U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House for a state visit, with both leaders pledging a new era of partnership on technology and security.

Washington views the visit as an important step way to deepen relations with African nations at a time when Washington’s focus has been on wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

“We may be divided by distance, but we are united by the same democratic values,” Biden said, noting the two countries are celebrating 60 years of partnership.

“Today, as we begin the next decade of our partnership, we’ve launched a new initiative to bring our country’s companies and communities closer together,” he said.

Ruto responded, “Today, as we celebrate our past, we are optimistic about our future. By undertaking this state visit, we will have the opportunity to discuss and to have a conversation about building global partnership and leadership.”

The Kenyan president arrived in the U.S. on Monday and visited Atlanta, Georgia, then spoke with business executives in the White House on Wednesday. On Thursday, he met privately with Biden in the Oval Office and will hold a joint press conference before being treated to a lavish state dinner in the evening.

Ruto’s trip is the first state visit for an African president to the White House since 2008. Successive U.S. governments have said they wanted to offer a more sustainable and democratic alternative to relations with U.S. rivals China and Russia, but have failed to establish real ties.

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Africa’s political landscape has been upended in the past year by a spate of military coupswars and shaky elections that have given China and Russia greater influence. Biden hopes strengthening ties with Kenya, seen as a democratic stronghold, can help stabilize the continent and advance U.S. interests.

The White House said Biden would also designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally, the first sub-Saharan African country to receive the designation. Currently, Qatar, Israel and 16 other countries share that designation.

GREEN ENERGY, HEALTH DEALS

The leaders will announce new U.S.-backed investments in green energy and health manufacturing, along with a detailed plan to cut Kenya’s high debt load, most of which is owed to China, the White House said.

The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will announce $250 million in new investments in Kenya through the U.S. International Development Finance Corp, including $180 million for a major affordable housing project, a U.S. government official said. That will bring the U.S. financing institution’s portfolio in Kenya to nearly $1.1 billion. The corporation will also open an office in Kenya.

The two leaders will also issue a joint call for the international community to reduce the heavy debt burden of many developing countries and do more to support poor countries that want to invest in development and climate technologies.

The humanitarian crisis in Haiti will be another key focus. Kenya’s plan to deploy 1,000 paramilitary officers to the Caribbean country as part of a U.N.-backed effort to curb gang violence and hunger has been delayed, sources told Reuters.

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On Wednesday, Biden told reporters he plans to visit Africa in February after the U.S. presidential election, an announcement that presumes the Democratic president will defeat his Republican opponent Donald Trump. Biden had earlier pledged to make a trip to Africa sometime in 2023.

Ruto will be celebrated at a dinner lit by 1,000 candles and a menu of heirloom tomato soup, butter-poached lobster, smoked beef short ribs and a white chocolate dessert.

Country singer Brad Paisley will headline the dinner along with Howard University’s Gospel Choir, both of which are tributes to Ruto’s musical interests.

By ANDREA SHALAL and JARRETT RENSHAW

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