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Biden to meet with Kenyatta, first African leader to visit

US President Joe Biden is slated to meet Thursday with his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta, the first African leader invited to the White House under the current administration.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured in September 2021) is the first African leader invited to the White House under US President Joe Biden's administration
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured in September 2021) is the first African leader invited to the White House under US President Joe Biden’s administration

The two leaders will discuss “the strong US-Kenyan bilateral relationship and the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems,” the White House said ahead of the meeting.

The meeting was announced shortly after the release of the Pandora Papers, a journalistic investigation that exposed secret offshore accounts linked to politicians and businesspeople all over the world.

The investigation revealed that Kenyatta — who has stated his intent to fight corruption — is believed to own, together with six family members, a network of 11 offshore companies, one of which is valued at $30 million.

Asked about the findings and how they might affect Biden’s meeting with Kenyatta, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “The president has been quite vocal as you all know about the inequalities in the international financial system.”

“That doesn’t mean we don’t meet with people you have disagreements on,” she said. “We have a range of interests in working with Kenya and working with them on issues in Africa, in the region, and that will be the primary focus.”

The two leaders will also talk about “efforts to defend democracy and human rights, advance peace and security, accelerate economic growth, and tackle climate change,” according to the White House statement.

– Low hopes on trade –

Biden has promised a renewed US engagement in Africa after the tangible disinterest shown by his predecessor Donald Trump, and sees the continent as a front in his campaign to champion democracy.

China, which Biden sees as the top long-term challenge of the United States, has been making strong economic inroads into Africa for years.

Long seen as a pillar of stability, Kenya was wracked by political violence including after 2017 elections but Kenyatta has since made peace with his once-bitter rival Raila Odinga.

Trade is likely to cause disagreement between Biden and Kenyatta.

The Trump administration had started discussions with Kenya on a free trade agreement. While the talks made little visible progress, Biden has not resumed them at all, causing frustration in Nairobi.

“To our American friends, I would like to say that you know you cannot start and stop a discussion with partners on the basis of one administration after another,” Kenyatta said earlier this week in New York.

“Relationships are between countries and people, not between administrations.”

Kenya is worried as the landmark African Growth and Opportunity Act, which lets sub-Saharan nations with good governance export without duties to the vast US market, is set to expire in 2025.

Enthusiasm for trade deals has been waning in the United States since the rise of Trump, who criticized such agreements and withdrew from a major pact in the Pacific.

Biden has shown little interest in picking up trade talks despite interest in deals from a number of countries, notably Britain.

Biden is also expected to speak to Kenyatta about the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Ethiopia, where the government has waged an offensive against the former ruling party in the Tigray region. AFP