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US Plans to Designate Kenya as Major Non-NATO Ally

Published: May 24, 2024
(Image: U.S. President Joe Biden goes in for a handshake during event with Kenyan President William Ruto and business executives at the White House, in Washington, U.S., May 22, 2024. REUTERS/Leah Millis)

During a three-day state visit by Kenya’s President William Ruto, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to designate the country as a major non-NATO ally, a source familiar with the plans said.

Kenya would be the first sub-Saharan African country to receive the designation, reflecting Washington’s drive to deepen relations with the eastern African nation of 54 million, which has long also had close relations with Russia and China.

Biden told reporters, as he welcomed Ruto to the White House for a meeting with business executives, that he planned to visit Africa next February, following the U.S. presidential election. 

The two leaders will meet again in the Oval Office on Thursday, May 23, followed by a joint news conference and a state dinner with the mutual delegations.

Biden and Ruto would discuss a range of issues from trade to debt relief and the way forward for Haiti, Ukraine, Sudan and other areas during their meeting, according to senior administration officials.

On May 22 Biden said he and Ruto would launch a new era of technology cooperation between the two countries. This would include work on cyber security, artificial intelligence and semiconductors, even though he did not mention the security designation.

The U.S. will also announce $250 million in new investments through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), expanding the U.S. financing agency’s portfolio in Kenya to over $1 billion.

A U.S. official said both countries share a commitment to ensuring technology is developed and deployed in a manner that advances transparency, accountability, and human rights.

Kenya, like the United States, has become “an engine for innovation”, the official said, citing its $1 billion “Silicon Savannah” technology hub. The new district is home to more than 200 startups spanning a range of sectors, including clean energy, microelectronics, financial technology, and e-commerce.

Washington also plans a new semiconductor partnership with Kenya, and is working with Congress to make it the first country in Africa to benefit from funding through the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

The designation is usually granted to non-NATO allies that have strategic working relationships with the U.S. military.

Biden in March also designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally of the U.S., fulfilling the promise he had made to the middle east country earlier in the year.

Gyude Moore, head of the Africa Initiative at the Center for Global Development, said at a time when South Africa was pursuing its own more independent foreign policy, Kenya had proven to be a dependable and reliable partner for the U.S..

Cameron Hudson is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said the move would formalize a shift that has seen Kenya “move more squarely into a U.S. orbit” in recent years, including greater cooperation on Somalia.

“It’s very significant. No other sub-Saharan African country has it,” he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.