What are the interests behind the visit of the Kenyan President Ruto in Washington?

  Articoli (Articles)
  Aurelia Maria Puliafito
  21 May 2024
  3 minutes, 22 seconds

Translated by Irene Cecchi

Introduction. After fifteen years from the visit of Ghana's President John Kufour in Washington, in 2008, the Kenyan William Ruto will go to the States on May 23rd to meet the current President and democrat’s candidate for the next presidential elections Joe Biden.

Such visit has many implications, symbolic and practical ones, both from Biden and Ruto’s point of view, with the latter being convinced to be able to benefit from Kenya’s past to make the Country the next leader of East Africa, a region tormented by incessant conflicts and deep crisis, even if he doesn’t seem to care much for the internal needs of kenyan people.

The international context. Actually, since Uhuru Kenyatta's presidency before Ruto, Kenya has been playing a significant role in East Africa, mediating regional conflicts and delivering contingents in the UN peacekeeping missions’ framework in Namibia and West Sahara. As a consequence, Kenya strengthened the role of a reliable playmaker and ally in the eyes of superpowers like the United States, the European Union, Russia and China. Ruto’s great diplomatic activism is clear and almost hectic: in May 2023 the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov went to Nairobi for an official visit that ended with Ruto’s declaration stating that he wanted to strengthen the relations with Moscow, whose popularity in the continent grew back in the last months after the spiraling fall caused by the war in Ukraine. In October of the same year, Ruto attended the ten year celebration of the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing to reaffirm his friendship with China, being Kenya a strategic partner for the African branch of the BRI, and to ask for a loan of a billion euros total.

In this articulated context, Ruto’s visit in the US seems to be a struggling attempt to contrast the Russian and Chinese influence in the continent, regardless of the ten-years humanitarian cooperation. During his presidency, Biden tried to resume those strategic relations that got lost with Trump, acknowledging the central role of Africa in the US’ network, from an economic, strategic and securitarian point of view, especially in the fight against Somali terrorist groups among others, as stated in December 2022 during the US-Africa Leaders Summit.

It is extremely important for Joe Biden that Nairobi’s Parliament approves the multilateral mission in Port-au-Prince, guided by Kenya within the UN framework and worth millions of dollars of financial aid from the US, because it would grant him a major success. This crisis, in fact, became a dominant issue in the eyes of the domestic public opinion in sight of the electoral competition for the White House.

Do ut des, what are the benefits for Kenya? Ruto’s demands to mobilize Kenyan financial and human resources to areas thousands of kilometers far away –leaving critical sites near and inside the Country, devastated by violent floods– will match up the need of calming down the tempers of domestic public opinion. In fact, because of the slashing of subsidies for the poorer classes and the incessant tax increase, last year Kenyan people took to the streets to demonstrate the spread dissatisfaction: “we believe the government doesn’t care for Kenyan people”, affirmed Davji Bhimji Atellah, secretary general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU).

In the meantime, according to Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, Cameron Hudson, Khasai Makhulo e Catherine Nzuki, authors of a report published by the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Ruto will demand to back up the growing presence of the US army in the Manda Bay base with a transfer of arms and know-how to the Kenyan army.

Mondo Internazionale APS - Riproduzione Riservata ® 2024

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Aurelia Maria Puliafito


Sub-Saharan Africa


Kenya USA