Skip to content

Kenya's Ruto Visits the U.S., a State Dinner without a Main Course?

If you haven’t heard about the first visit of an African President to the U.S. in 20 years—which began when President of Kenya William Ruto arrived on Monday, May 20—you are not alone. With almost no fanfare, the head of state arrived—not in Washington, but in Atlanta, where, after two days in the Deep South, he will arrive in Washington on May 22. President Biden will host him at a state dinner on Thursday, May 23, the day Kenya celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence from the British Empire.

While it may never be known for sure, the agenda for Ruto’s visit may have undergone some radical downgrading in the last few days. Ruto and Biden have been working overtime behind the scenes to make the centerpiece of his visit the announcement of the launch of Kenya’s long-delayed Multinational Security Support Mission (MSSM) to Haiti, with the initial deployment of the first 200 of eventually 1,000 Kenyan police already in the final stages of preparation for the mission. While Ruto has been only too eager to engage in this neo-colonial venture—and the U.S. State Department has repeatedly knocked down any barriers raised against the plan—the venture has undergone steady resistance in Kenya.

The Kenyan engagement in this “policing” effort has been challenged in Kenyan courts on constitutional grounds for almost a year now, and judges have repeatedly agreed with the plaintiffs. In the most recent ruling, on May 17, Judge Chacha Mwita accepted a petition by original filer, Third Alliance Party chair Ekuru Aukot, which charged President William Ruto with contempt of court, for having ignored a Jan. 26 ruling by the same court against that deployment, the Haitian Times reported. In defiance of the court, Ruto had invited Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry to Nairobi, where the two signed a “reciprocal agreement” on May 1, only to see Henry overthrown upon his return to Haiti.

A small delegation of Kenyan officials, including the MSSM force commander, arrived in Haiti on May 20 to assess preparations for the potential arrival of the first small Kenyan police contingent. This group will be in Port-au-Prince this week, meeting with UN, U.S., and Haitian officials.

According to British daily, The Guardian, the first Kenyan officers to arrive will reportedly come from an elite paramilitary unit known as the RECCE squad, a rapid deployment force, and members of a police special operations group with experience fighting Islamist insurgents on Kenya’s border with Somalia. At a webinar sponsored by the Quincy Institute today, former U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote observed that the Kenyan police undoubtedly have some elite paramilitary units trained by the CIA, but that these do not reflect the overall quality or competence of the Kenyan police, which he characterized as unqualified to lead the MSSM or to deal with the complicated and violent Haitian situation.