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Biden rolls out red carpet for Kenyan President William Ruto, vows to ‘unite’ against ISIS and al-Shabaab ahead of lavish state dinner


President Joe Biden welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto with full military honors during an elaborate arrival ceremony, marking the first state visit by an African leader since 2008.

Ruto, 57, leads the East African democracy known for its stability in a region wracked by civil war, militias and bitter resource battles.

The president is poised to ask Congress to grant Kenya the special designation of a US ally as a «major non-NATO state» in the latest effort to keep the regional power close and show other countries some of the benefits of US cooperation.

It is the first sub-Saharan country to receive it.

“Kenya and America also stand united against the terror ISIS and al-Shabaab continue to perpetrate in East Africa. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The violence that has brought down too many democracies in both our regions… The past is our proof that when Kenya and the United States work together, we are stronger and the world is safer.”

«Democracy is clearly on the back foot globally and we see Kenya as an important, stable democracy in East Africa,» a senior administration official said before the visit.

The new status is aimed «to enhance and truly recognize that Kenya is already our global partner,» a senior administration official told reporters.

Kenyan First Lady Rachel Ruto, Kenyan President William Ruto stand with US President Joe Biden and US First Lady Jill Biden attended the arrival ceremony. «Violence has brought down too many democracies in both of our regions,» Biden said as he prepared to brief Congress on a new ally status for the East African nation.

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Biden spoke from the day Kenya gained independence 60 years ago, reading from printed notes.

«The new democracy is cute and permanent,» he said.

US forces have spent years battling ISIS forces, and al-Shabaab continues its insurgency in neighboring Somalia.

“This is the first state visit by an African head of state in almost 20 years. It’s long overdue,» White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters before Thursday’s events.

The visit commemorates 60 years of a US-Kenyan partnership «based on shared values, deep cooperation and a common vision for the future,» according to a White House fact sheet.

The big event on the agenda is a lavish state dinner for 500 in a huge tent on the South Lawn. Former President Barack Obama, who has Kenyan roots, is not expected to attend, but this election year is expected to feature a bevy of bold names and deep-pocketed donors.

Trade is also on the table. The Kenya Highways Authority has announced an agreement with US firm Everstrong Capital for a deal to build a $3.6 billion highway linking the capital Nairobi with Mombasa.

«The project envisages attracting a total of $3.6 billion in investment, coming from international investors, development agencies, pension funds and an exceptionally large number of Kenyan private investors,» Everstrong said in a statement.

Biden approached the podium to speak before grabbing a hold and waiting for a military honor guard

Biden approached the podium to speak before grabbing a hold and waiting for a military honor guard

The White House South Lawn was packed with event goers

The White House South Lawn was packed with event goers

First Lady Jill Biden held the president's hand after his remarks

First Lady Jill Biden held the president’s hand after his remarks

Ruto was greeted with military honors in a visit that underscores the importance of a democratic ally in a conflict-ridden region

Ruto was greeted with military honors in a visit that underscores the importance of a democratic ally in a conflict-ridden region

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The ceremony featured military bands and a pipe and drum corps

The ceremony featured military bands and a pipe and drum corps

White House and National Park staff prepare for an official state arrival for Kenyan President William Ruto on the South Lawn

White House and National Park staff prepare for an official state arrival for Kenyan President William Ruto on the South Lawn

Biden promised on December 22 that he would visit Africa next year, but that did not happen.

Sullivan isn’t tied to an exact time frame. «He intends to do so as president of the United States,» he said Wednesday.

Ruto is considered an «international operator» and Kenyan troops are ready to lead an international peacekeeping effort to bring some stability to Haiti.

The morning ceremony was attended by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and other top officials.

Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto arrived in a black SUV. The Bidens greeted them and First Lady Jill Biden showed her counterpart where to stand.

The group then greeted Vice President Harris and other officials from both governments.

At one point, after surveying the assembled American troops with Ruto, Biden approached the lectern as if to speak, then corrected himself and waited for a chorus of pipes and drums to emerge.

Ruto began his remarks with a greeting in Swahili. «Jambo,» he said. He called Kenya «a proud democratic nation» and cited the challenges of climate change and the «debt distress».



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