Biden Honors Kenya as the East African Nation Prepares to Send Forces to Haiti

President Biden suggested on Thursday that the decision to have Kenya lead a security mission in Haiti, without troops from the United States on the ground, was meant to avoid the fraught history of American intervention in the deeply troubled country.

Mr. Biden said the United States would contribute money, logistical support and equipment as Kenya and other nations try to quell the gang violence that erupted there after the assassination of the country’s president in 2021. But in response to a question about why American troops will not participate, Mr. Biden alluded to previous U.S. interventions there.

“We concluded that for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented by what we’re trying to do,” he said during a news conference at the White House with President William Ruto of Kenya.

“We’re in a situation where we want to do all we can without looking like America, once again, is stepping over and deciding this is what must be done,” he added.

The history of American involvement in Haiti is a difficult one that includes a decades-long occupation, from 1915 to 1934, that left deep resentments among people on the island. American troops again landed on Haiti in 1994, following a military coup, a mission that left more Haitians embittered.

The issue is also sensitive in Kenya, where some have criticized Mr. Ruto for paying too much attention to a crisis overseas while problems persist at home. Mr. Ruto dismissed a question about that issue from a Kenyan reporter during the news conference.

“We have made tremendous progress in making sure that we clear security at home,” Mr. Ruto said, “but that does not take away our responsibility” abroad.

The comments about the mission to Haiti came as Mr. Biden said he would designate Kenya as a “major non-NATO ally,” a move that reflects the president’s determination to deepen relations with the East African nation even as other countries — including Russia and China — are racing to do the same.

Mr. Biden, who was hosting Mr. Ruto for a state dinner later Thursday, said the relationship between the two countries would allow them to confront issues of health, security, technology and debt.

“Taken together, these are responsibilities Kenya and America must meet in the years ahead — meet them together, as partners,” Mr. Biden said, “for prosperity, for innovation and, most importantly, for democracy.”

The “major non-NATO-ally” distinction is given to countries whose militaries have strategic working relationships with the United States, though not necessarily mutual defense pacts. Kenya would be the first sub-Saharan African country to have such a designation.

The diplomatic move, and the daylong celebration of the six-decade U.S.-Kenyan relationship, is meant to underscore Mr. Biden’s commitment to Africa, even after he failed to make good on a promise to travel personally to the continent by the end of this year.

As he greeted Mr. Ruto upon his arrival in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden told the Kenyan president that he intended to visit the continent “in February, after I am re-elected.” For months, Mr. Biden’s aides had ducked questions about whether he would travel to Africa during a busy election year.

Discussions about Haiti were at the center of the closed-door meetings that Mr. Biden held with Mr. Ruto.

Mr. Ruto has been criticized in his own country for moves against judges that some said were authoritarian in nature. And he has welcomed outreach from the leaders of Iran, Russia and China — American adversaries whose military, political and economic interests often clash with those of Washington.

Mr. Ruto has shrugged off those criticisms, saying that it made sense to have connections with many countries where there are mutual interests. Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Wednesday that Mr. Biden did not shy away from criticizing countries for their human rights or civil society records.

However, “he’s not here to lecture President Ruto,” Mr. Sullivan added. “President Ruto, in fact, is somebody who just was in Atlanta speaking about these issues. And we will invest in Kenya’s democratic institutions, in its civil society, in all walks of Kenyan life to help make sure that the basic foundations of Kenyan democracy remain strong.”

Mr. Ruto’s day at the White House marked the first state visit of an African leader since 2008 and was designed to be full of both official meetings and the glittery pomp that presidents reserve for the closest of allies.

Guests will dine on heirloom tomato soup, butter-poached lobster, fruitwood-smoked short ribs and a white chocolate basket. Hanging over the guests will be a centerpiece featuring 15,000 pieces of metallic strips, reflecting candlelight in the State Dining Room. Musical guests will include the Howard Gospel Choir and the country singer Brad Paisley.

But the main purpose of the visit for Mr. Biden is to demonstrate that he remains resolved to build connections between the United States and African businesses and governments.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Ruto held a roundtable discussion with executives to showcase Kenya’s desire to expand its role as a hub of technology and commerce in East Africa. Already, the country hosts $1 billion worth of startup companies dubbed the “Silicon Savanna,” in reference to its grasslands.

The executives included Ruth Porat, president and chief investment officer for Alphabet and Google; Ursula Burns, chairwoman of Teneo; and Kamau Gachigi, the executive director of Gearbox.

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