Kenya President Ruto’s regional message in bilateral visit to US

Tuesday May 21 2024
William Ruto

Kenya's President William Ruto delivers a point during an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the IDA for Africa Heads of State Summit in Nairobi, Kenya on April 29, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


Kenya's President William Ruto on Monday landed in the US in his first-ever State visit to Washington and used this opportunity to deliver a regional message for a bilateral trip.

In his first engagement since landing, President Ruto spoke about climate change, financial restructuring and dealing with regional security problems.

However, he said the allure of democracy may wane if enthusiasts of freedom of choice continue to wallow in poverty, especially in Africa.

President Ruto was speaking on “Global Democracy Partnership”, an engagement at the Carter Center in Atlanta, named after former US president Jimmy Carter.

Read: Kenya, Uganda score poorly on democracy index

The audience included Carter’s grandson and Carter Center Board chairman Jason, Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander, Director of the Carter Presidential Library and Museum Meredith Evans, US Congresswoman Nikema William and US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman.


US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman (L) shakes hands with Kenya's President William Ruto upon his arrival at in Atlanta, Georgia, US on May 20, 2024. PHOTO | POOL

Ruto had been expected to speak about the growth of democracy in Kenya over the years. But he also used the occasion to speak about the challenges facing the continent.

“In several countries, we have seen unconstitutional changes of government that have threatened democratic gains. Consequently, this is a crucial time for reflecting on the need to strengthen democracy worldwide,” President Ruto said.

“Many countries are in economic and debt distress occasioned by climate change and compounded by an unjust international financial architecture and an imperfect multilateralism associated with the free market economy. We now run the escalating risk of democracy and free market being associated with poverty and suffering, lending credence to the widespread lamentation that democracy is or has been on the retreat in many parts of the world, including Africa,” he added.

President Ruto did not name the countries, but Africa has had six coups over the last three years with the military ousting civilian leaders for failure to address economic and security challenges.

Gabon, Sudan, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea are the countries that have experienced coups over that period.

In the aftermath, some of these countries such as Niger, changed tack on their foreign policy, truncating some bilateral arrangements with Western countries such US and France.

Read: Europe faces dilemma with Africa’s Sahel ‘coup belt’

Other countries across the continent have fallen out of running their own affairs following civil wars. 

For Ruto however, the choice to recoil from what had worked before is partly out of disappointment.

It is a global feature, he argued, where “a growing wave of narrow nationalism, intolerance, targeting of minorities, violent political contests and other anti-democratic tendencies” have ensued.

President Ruto has previously spoken of democracy and often boasts of having been elected through a structured system that provided for results to be challenged in Court. He repeated that story in Atlanta, Georgia State.

He is expected to meet US Congressmen on Wednesday to yet again speak about the danger of poverty and debt on democracy in Africa.

In Atlanta, President Ruto said was making “a case for many countries in Africa, including Kenya seeking a just international financial architecture that will afford developing countries concessionary development financing to support our economies, build resilience against the effects of climate change, drive our belief in a free-market economy and energise our democratic enterprise.”

Some countries such as Kenya have struggled with debt, some inherited from past administrations. 

But caught between a rock and a hard place, President Ruto himself has gone on to borrow more amid increased taxes for Kenyans. 

He recently argued that proper taxation is the right thing to do, even if it may not be popular.

President Ruto beseeched the US to help address the issue of credit for the poor countries, saying it is an anchor to defending democracy for the future. 

However, Washington is concerned that conflicts in places such as Sudan are a risk to the entire neighbourhood as they are likely to rope in militia groups from other regions, or profit from arms smuggling. 


Sudanese refugees who fled the violence in Sudan's Darfur region and newly arrived ride their donkeys looking for space to temporarily settle near the border between Sudan and Chad in Goungour, Chad on May 8, 2023. PHOTO | REUTERS

Read: Wars threatening US interests in Africa

President Ruto may well brief his host about any steps taken, or challenges faced. 

After a year of fighting and in which Sudan’s warring parties rejected all ceasefire bids, Washington has lately shown support for local solutions through African Union, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad). 

President Ruto was in February granted the role of helping reforms at the African Union to enhance its role in developing the continent.

He termed it as a big opportunity for the US “to collaborate with Kenya and the broader African continent in building the institutional capabilities necessary for economic prosperity, peace, and security for the 1.4 billion people in Africa.”

He also warned that climate change could hurt those freedoms.

However, President Ruto holds the view that whatever African countries do for prosperity will amount to nothing as long as the neighbourhood and far-lung countries like Haiti are unstable.

He told the audience that Kenya’s destiny is inseparably intertwined with the overall well-being of humanity.

“In this context, Kenya has been and will continue to be a leader in the search for sustainable solutions to regional and global challenges," President Ruto said.

“The war in Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, and the fighting in Sudan, South Sudan, Eastern DRC, the Sahel, and terrorism in Somalia all demand greater collaboration and strategic global leadership,” he said.

Lately, the US has subtly granted that leadership to Kenya, while encouraging it to help calm tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia, over the Somaliland memorandum of understanding (MoU), for example. 

Kenya is also hosting mediation talks for hold-out groups in South Sudan, with Washington seeing a potential deal from those talks as crucial to ending persistent clashes between armed groups and government forces.

Read: Renewed hope as Kenya-led South Sudan talks start

In fact, two senior US envoys have toured Nairobi this past two weeks to discuss situations in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan. 

President Ruto hosted leaders of Somalia and Uganda before he left for this trip. He has also met with civilian movements in the Sudan conflict.

Diplomatic sources have also indicated that Somalia is pushing for more global support against what it sees as Ethiopia’s aggression, just as much as it wants the war on Al-Shabaab to be sustained with potential US support.