Biden thanks Kenya’s Ruto for sending police to Haiti and defends keeping US forces from the mission

May 23, 2024, 2:04 AM | Updated: 4:58 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday expressed deep appreciation to Kenyan President William Ruto for the coming deployment of Kenyan police forces to help quell gang violence in Haiti and he defended his decision to withhold American forces from the mission in the beleaguered Caribbean nation.

The United States has agreed to contribute $300 million to a multinational force that will include 1,000 Kenyan police officers, but Biden argued that an American troop presence in Haiti would raise “all kinds of questions that can easily be misrepresented.”

The Democrat came into office in 2021 pledging to end U.S. involvement in so-called endless wars in the aftermath of 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Haiti is in an area of the Caribbean that is a very volatile,” Biden said at a news conference with Ruto, who was in Washington for the first state visit to the U.S. by an African leader since 2008. “There’s a lot going on in this hemisphere. So we’re in a situation where we want to do all we can without us looking like America once again is stepping over and deciding this is what must be done.”

Ruto, who was honored by Biden with a fancy state dinner on the White House grounds in the evening, also gave a climate policy address and met with former President Barack Obama.

Ruto is facing legal challenges in Nairobi over the decision to commit Kenyan forces to a conflict thousands of miles from home when his own country has no shortage of economic and security challenges. He said that Kenya, as a democracy, has a duty to help.

“Kenya believes that the responsibility of peace and security anywhere in the world, including in Haiti, is the collective responsibility of all nations and all people who believe in freedom, self-determination, democracy and justice,” Ruto said. “And it is the reason why Kenya took up this responsibility.”

Some analysts say his move could run afoul of a Kenyan High Court ruling in January that found the deployment unconstitutional because of a lack of reciprocal agreements between Kenya and Haiti. A deal was signed in March, before Ariel Henry resigned as Haiti’s prime minister, to try to salvage the plan.

Kenya’s moving ahead “gives the impression that the country is lawless and does not believe in the rule of law,” said Macharia Munene, an international relations professor at United States International University-Africa.

A difficult assignment is ahead for the Kenyan officers.

Haiti has endured poverty, political instability and natural disasters for decades. International intervention in Haiti has a complicated history. A U.N.-approved stabilization mission to Haiti that started in June 2004 was marred by a sexual abuse scandal and the introduction of cholera, which killed nearly 10,000 people. The mission ended in October 2017.

Biden and Ruto also called on economies around the globe to take action to reduce the enormous debt burden crushing Kenya and other developing nations.

The call to action, termed the Nairobi-Washington Vision, comes as Biden presses his appeal to African nations that the U.S. can be a better partner than economic rival China. Beijing has been deepening its investment on the continent — often with high-interest loans and other difficult financing terms.

Biden and Ruto want creditor nations to reduce financing barriers for developing nations that have been constrained by high debt burdens. They also called on international financial institutions to coordinate debt relief and support through multilateral banks and institutions providing better financing terms.

The White House announced $250 million in grants for the International Development Association, part of the World Bank, to assist poor countries facing crises.

Separately, a $1.2 trillion government funding bill passed by Congress in March allows the U.S. to lend up to $21 billion to an International Monetary Fund trust that provides zero-interest loans to support low-income countries.

“Too many nations are forced to make a choice between development and debt, between investing in their people and paying back their creditors,” Biden said.

An Associated Press analysis of a dozen countries most indebted to China — including Kenya — found the debt is consuming an ever-greater amount of tax revenue needed to keep schools open, provide electricity and pay for food and fuel.

Behind the scenes is China’s reluctance to forgive debt and its extreme secrecy about how much money it has loaned and on what terms, which has kept other major lenders from stepping in to help.

Kenya’s debt-to-GDP ratio tops 70%, with the bulk of it owed to China. Credit ratings agency Fitch estimates the Kenya will spend almost one-third of its government revenues just on interest payments this year.

The Biden administration has praised Kenya for stepping up in Haiti when so few other countries have agreed to do so. Biden also announced his intention to designate Kenya as a major non-NATO ally, an acknowledgment of the growing security partnership between the countries.

The designation, while largely symbolic, reflects how Kenya has grown from a regional partner that has long cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism operations on the continent to a major global influence — even extending its reach into the Western Hemisphere. Kenya will be the first sub-Saharan African country to receive the status.

Ruto arrived in Washington on Wednesday and began the visit by meeting with Biden and tech executives from Silicon Valley and Kenya’s growing tech sector.

The White House announced it was working with Congress to make Kenya the first country in Africa to benefit from funding through the CHIPS and Science Act, a 2022 law that aims to reinvigorate the computer chip sector within the United States through tens of billions of dollars in targeted government support.

“I think we have a historic moment to explore investment opportunities between Kenya and the United States,” Ruto said.

Despite the optimistic outlook, Kenya has seen a sharp decline in foreign investment since 2017. Net investment for foreign companies has fallen from $1.35 billion in 2017 to $394 million in 2022, according to the World Bank.

Associated Press writers Evelyne Musambi in Nairobi, Kenya, and Josh Boak and Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.

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Biden thanks Kenya’s Ruto for sending police to Haiti and defends keeping US forces from the mission