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Ruto’s state visit spotlights Kenya’s centrality to Africa–US relations


President Joe Biden’s choice of Kenya for a first African state visit in more than 15 years is no coincidence, but both countries must be clear on what is driving this increasing strategic dependence.

Kenyan President William Ruto’s arrival in Washington on 22 May ends a historic drought. No African leader has made a state visit to the US since John Kufuor of Ghana in 2008 – three times longer than the previous record gap, but a period that has also seen three US Africa Strategies (2012, 2018 and 2022) and two US–Africa Leaders’ Summits (2014 and 2022).

The latest of these strategic resets in 2022 encouraged a somewhat more engaged US administration, reflected in an uptick of visits by officials to the continent. 

Yet competing international priorities and the looming US elections risk Washington slipping back into a status quo of complacency on Africa – illustrated by Joe Biden’s failure to make a promised trip to the continent in 2023.

In Ruto, Biden is welcoming an increasingly assertive international operator, with a track record of promoting African solidarity and a keen awareness of the new partnerships possible in a multipolar world. 

The state visit offers an opportunity to US policymakers and to Kenya alike to strengthen foundations for long-term partnership – but discussion must be founded in recognition of mutual need.

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