December 7, 2022

Biden hosts Kenyatta at White House, first African leader since inauguration

Biden Kenyatta
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. hosts President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday, October 14, 2021. Official White House photograph

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday afternoon hosted President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya at the White House, the first African leader since Mr. Biden was inaugurated in January 2021.

“I’m happy to have the President of Kenya here, President Kenyatta. It’s an honor to welcome you to the White House, to the Oval Office.  Good to see you again,” President Biden said in remarks before their bilateral meeting. “And, you know, the U.S.-Kenya strategic partnership is essential — we both, I think, believe is essential to addressing key regional and global challenges. And I want to thank Kenya for your — thank you for your leadership in defending the peace, security, and democratic instincts of the region and your country.  You’re doing a heck of a job.”

President Kenyatta recalled a visit Biden made to Kenya when he was still Vice President during the Obama-Biden administration.

“I don’t know whether many will recall, but President Biden, in a former life, visited Kenya where we had an opportunity to meet when he was Vice President, when he’d come over — again, on issues related to strengthening the partnership and the relationship between our two countries.  And it’s really a great pleasure and honor to see you again,” Kenyatta said in remarks, before highlighting that the discussions with Biden will focus on four key areas – COVID-19 vaccine and increase dosages to Africa, counter terrorism, climate change, and trade and investment.

President Kenyatta was accompanied by Ambassador Raychelle A. Omamo, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ms. Betty C. Maina, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development; T.H. Amos M. Kimunya, Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly; Ms. Ruth W. Kagia, Deputy Chief of Staff; Ambassador Johnson M. Weru, State Department of Trade and Enterprise Development, and Lazarus O. Amayo, Ambassador of the Republic of Kenya to the United States. 

The visit came only weeks after the Presidents of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo and Zambia Hakainde Hichilema were hosted by U.S. Vice President Kamala D. Harris at the White House last month.

The United States government explained earlier in the day why President Kenyatta of Kenya was the first African leader to be hosted by President Biden.

|Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema speaks at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City

In a phone call with reporters on Thursday morning, a senior administration official described Kenyatta is an “elderly statesman”, and Kenya as a “strong bilateral partner” of the United States, especially when it comes to global issues such as human rights, climate change and terrorism.

More specifically, the official said for the United States, Kenya is an “important strategic partner in Africa”, which is vital in advancing peace and security in the fragile horn of Africa region and can help in de-escalating the conflict in Ethiopia as well as in fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The East African nation is also a symbol of democracy in the region, a key pillar of President Biden’s foreign policy agenda, the official added.

“So, the “Why Kenya?”  Well, Kenya is a strong bilateral partner and a leader on regional and global issues.  The United States is — we’re committed to working closely with Kenya to advance peace and security, both in the region and globally, as Kenya is current — currently holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month — as well as defending democracy and human rights, strengthening financial transparency, accelerating economic growth, and tackling climate change,” the official said. “And this meeting demonstrates really a new era of U.S. partnership with Africa that is based on principles of mutual respect and equity as laid out by President Biden in his address to the African Union Summit in January of this year.”

The official added that Kenyatta is “an important voice” that resonates in the Horn of Africa region, and the United States would like to continue to use his voice to encourage a peaceful resolution to the deadly conflict in Ethiopia.

“You know, Kenya is really an important strategic partner in Africa because we are — we work with them very closely, and they are vital in advancing peace and security in a very fragile Horn of Africa region.  In particular, Kenya can play an important role in countering al-Shabaab in Somalia, as well as deescalating the conflict in Ethiopia,” the official said.  “And as a current member of the U.N. Security Council, Kenya also exerts influence in various international fora, such as, you know, being a leader on cross-cutting strategic issues, such as democracy and human rights, climate, trade and investment, and health and health security.”

The official noted that Kenyatta, who was in Ethiopia last week for the second inauguration of Abiy Ahmed Ali, had called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ethiopia.

President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, depart after delivering remarks about the situation in Afghanistan, Friday, August 20, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

More broadly, the official said by receiving Kenyatta at the White House, President Biden is signaling that the United States sees Africa as a key partner in global and regional issues.

“We know that Africa is a continent experiencing rapid demographic growth, vast economic potential, and significant geopolitical influence on the world stage.  And the Biden-Harris administration recognizes that and thus has set out to really encourage an affirmative agenda with the continent, and today’s meeting with President Kenyatta reaffirms that,” the official said.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the passing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Tuesday, August 10, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

On the corruption allegations facing the Kenyan leader, the official did not say whether President Biden will call for accountability, only saying that where there are disagreements, Mr. Biden will make them known.

The Pandora Papers showed that the Kenyan President and six members of his family have been linked to 13 offshore companies. President Biden has asserted that the fight against corruption will be at the center of his foreign policy agenda.

 “I think, you know, President Biden definitely engages on — with a range of leaders in advancing, you know, his foreign policy priorities, foremost amongst which are absolutely to address and combat corruption,” the official said.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets virtually with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo

Biden and Kenyatta will discuss “the strong U.S.-Kenyan bilateral relationship and the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement on Tuesday. “They will also discuss efforts to defend democracy and human rights, advance peace and security, accelerate economic growth, and tackle climate change. The meeting will build on the leaders’ phone call in February and on President Biden’s commitment to the U.S. partnership with Africa based on principles of mutual respect and equality.”

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