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The evolution of William Ruto’s image: accusations of crimes against humanity by the ICC in 2007 a key role in American-Kenyan relations

  • May 22, 2024
  • 5 Min
  • 18

Kenyan President William Ruto will become the first African leader in more than 15 years to make an official state visit to the United States. This meeting offers President Joe Biden the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to Africa at a time when Washington appears to be lagging in its engagement with the continent.

However, relations with other African allies are under strain, as strategic rivals such as Russia and China challenge traditional areas of Western influence. Although Mr Ruto was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity linked to violence following Kenya’s 2007 election, the case collapsed and Mr Ruto has since reinvented as an indispensable partner for the United States.

Despite lingering suspicions about his democratic credentials, his lack of an invitation to address a joint session of Congress is not due to that, according to the US ambassador to Kenya, Meg Whitman, but rather to a matter of timing .

Under Mr. Ruto’s leadership, Kenya has strengthened its role as the region’s diplomatic and commercial center, becoming a “pivot state” for the United States in a difficult neighborhood. Although he has faced domestic protests over his handling of the ailing economy, he has become an advocate for Africa on issues related to climate change and debt relief on the international stage.

Additionally, Kenya is an important security partner in East Africa and has delighted Washington by promising to send Kenyan police officers to Haiti. However, while President Biden had only one phone call with a sub-Saharan African leader last year, addressed to Mr Ruto regarding Nairobi’s promise to lead a multinational force into Haiti, attention focused on American setbacks in West Africa.

Mr Ruto’s state visit to Washington appears partly intended to make up for Mr Biden’s failure to keep his promise to visit Africa, made at a major summit of African leaders in Washington ago at two years old.

However, since then it has been distracted by crises elsewhere, such as the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Additionally, the visit comes after the Biden administration announced a new strategy to transform its relations with African countries into more equal partnerships that advance the strategic interests of both parties. While Mr Ruto somewhat embodies this approach, recent US setbacks in West Africa have attracted attention.

Indeed, the situation in Niger illustrates the challenges that the United States faces in Africa. Despite the presence of U.S. troops in the country for years, relations changed after a coup last year, with Niger’s military rulers moving closer to Russia and Iran. U.S. efforts to continue security cooperation have failed, resulting in the full withdrawal of U.S. troops planned for September.

The development underscores tensions as the United States attempts to reconcile security partnerships with democratic values, limitations that the Russians do not share.