U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes Kenyan President William Ruto at the South Portico of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Leah Millis

May 23 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House on Thursday for a state visit aimed at deepening relations with African nations, which have been sidelined by wars in Ukraine and Gaza, with a flurry of deal announcements.

“We may be divided by distance, but we are united by the same democratic values,” Biden said, noting that the two countries are celebrating a 60-year partnership this year.

“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, who arrived in the U.S. on Monday and visited Atlanta, Georgia, spoke with CEOs in the White House on Wednesday. Later on Thursday, he will meet with Biden in the Oval Office and hold a joint press conference before attending 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.

Africa’s political landscape has been upended in the past year by a spate of military coups, wars 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, 18 countries are designated as non-NATO allies, including Qatar, Israel, Brazil and the Philippines.


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. will announce $250 million in new investments in Kenya through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, 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 humanitarian crisis in Haiti will be a 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.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he plans an official visit to Africa in February after the U.S. presidential election, an announcement that presumes he will defeat 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.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal and Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Don Durfee, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)