- African Growth and Opportunity Act
TRALAC - Trade Law Centre
You are here: Home/News/Article/US-Kenya: Ruto’s US state visit needs to navigate America’s uncertain political future

US-Kenya: Ruto’s US state visit needs to navigate America’s uncertain political future

US-Kenya: Ruto’s US state visit needs to navigate America’s uncertain political future
Published date:
Monday, 26 February 2024
Declan Galvin

President William Ruto will visit the United States on a State Visit in May during what is likely to be one of the most turbulent US elections in memory. Barring some miracle, or catastrophe, the US presidential election will be a showdown between the same two contenders—albeit older and less energetic—as in 2020.

The US presidential election in November is the most significant geopolitical risk event of 2024.

Its outcome could result in a dramatic change in US foreign and domestic policy. These policy changes, assuming former president Donald Trump wins again, would almost certainly change the immediate fortunes of actors across the world including flashpoints like Russia-Ukraine War, securitization of the Red Sea corridor, and the Taiwan Straight or the European Union policy, NATO, and, closer to home, US commitments across Africa.

Maybe those changes are good. Maybe those changes are bad. But when Ruto steps off the plane in Washington, DC he will be in the centre of a monumental national moment in America. This political context will need to shape his and the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s long-term planning if, for no other reason, the approximately 50/50 chance that most key US officials they meet will be unemployed this year.

As I have said many times before in other forums: there is no country in Africa which has had as good of a relationship with the US for as long as Kenya. The ties are so special that America’s first black president is the son of a Kenyan. Those realities are the momentum which will keep these two nations together as partners. 

That reality is also the currency that Ruto needs to leverage during his DC visit. The US needs a partner like Kenya on the continent and Kenya can latch some of its boundless capabilities to this relationship to unlock the next stage of its economic development.

As significant as pageantry and power aesthetics are to State Visits, Ruto and his team must leverage these presidential moments into deepening diplomatic and trade ties with US officials two and three levels below the White House. To achieve this, Ruto’s delegation and entourage must have access to senior career policymakers most likely to survive a regime transition and be well-briefed on how to advance Kenya’s strategic national priorities during this red-carpet moment. 

State Visits create an enormous amount of buzz—especially in election years. Often there are plenty of unofficial side events that carry on the State Visit themes which Kenya must also leverage to its advantage to explore or deepen commercial ties. These unofficial side events have been abused by other African governments who fill planes with hangers-on, dilettantes, distant relatives, or other leeches who throng shopping malls rather than advance national interests.

Ruto and his entourage would be wise to use of unofficial events to signal the aptitude of Kenyan diplomacy, talent, and business acumen. 

So many governments miss or squander opportunities to leverage side events organized by think tanks, big banks, NGOs, diaspora communities, co-working spaces, business councils, trade boards, universities, or the plethora of other interest groups that operate in the US. All these forums present opportunities for the Ruto government to officially or unofficially advance its vision for Kenya, the African continent, and their role in the world. And every one of these opportunities can be expected to exist beyond the life of the Biden administration.

These unofficial side events should also include finding ways to engage with former or future Trump officials. Obviously due to US laws on foreign influence, as well as not looking bad in front of the Democratic administration, this would need to be handled with care.

But the outcome is simple: make sure there are friendly lines of communication open in case Trump wins in November. Afterall, it was under the Trump administration that the Kenya Free Trade Agreement, which was expected to be the largest free trade deal with an African country, almost came into life. This initiative ended when Trump lost the 2020 election.

American political uncertainty presents the opportunity for Ruto’s administration to focus relationship-building in US institutions and across civic forums to achieve long term priorities. The well-choreographed agreements, commitments, and meetings emanating from the White House are also win-themes for Ruto upon his return home, but Kenya must take a more multi-dimensional view of this trip beyond the planned giveaways.

Read related news articles

USTR releases summaries from US – Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations

Consistent with the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to the highest levels of transparency in trade agreement negotiations, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) today released summaries of texts proposed by the U.S. side on good regulatory practices, workers’ rights and protections, and a second tranche of agriculture text. Negotiations on these texts are ongoing. USTR will negotiate the workers’...

08 April 2024

US President Biden to welcome Kenyan President Ruto to the White House in May

President Joe Biden plans to welcome Kenyan President William Ruto to the White House in May, hosting a state visit after reneging on his promise to visit Africa last year. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that the visit set for May 23 will mark the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Kenya diplomatic relations and "celebrate a partnership that is delivering for the people" of both countries while affirming "our strategic...

18 February 2024

US keen to strengthen Kenya’s public procurement system as trade talks resume [incl. Readout]

The US plans to strengthen Kenya’s public procurement systems in what is seen as a strategy to put in place sound structures ahead of the planned trade pact. This comes as talks on the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) resumed last week with a meeting in Nairobi. Kenya is pushing for the deal and renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which expires next year. Washington in a statement on Tuesday said the...

07 February 2024

US officials to fast-track talks on Kenya-US Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP)

US authorities will expedite negotiations on the Kenya-US Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) and consider extending the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond its expiry next year. Prime Cabinet Secretary and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Musalia Mudavadi who spoke after a meeting with US Secretary for State Mr Tony Blinken said these initiatives will facilitate expanded duty and quota-free access...

02 February 2024

Kenya, US trade talks resume in Nairobi, go for common ground

The third round of the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) negotiations between Kenya and the United States opened in Nairobi yesterday. Investment, Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano said Kenya’s delegation is being led by Trade Principal Secretary Alfred K’Ombudo.  The main agenda items for the meeting which wraps up tomorrow revolve around agriculture, good regulatory practices, and workers’ rights...

30 January 2024

Kenya, US talks shift to agriculture

Kenya and the United States are set to begin talks on contentious clauses in a proposed bilateral trade deal amid fears the agreement could flood the market with cheap agricultural imports from America. The delayed third in-person round of talks will focus on agriculture, good regulatory practices and workers’ rights and protections, according to a statement from the US Trade Representative Office (USTR). The three-day negotiations...

27 January 2024

Kenya-US far from trade deal as year ends

Kenya’s hopes of concluding a trade deal with the US by end of this year seem unlikely pushing the long draw talks into next year. The Kenyan government had in March this year expressed optimism of sealing a deal before the year ends, in its quest to secure preferential trade terms way before the expiry of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), in September 2025.  Kenya and the US have held three rounds of in-person negotiations...

21 December 2023

Kenya-US to deepen ICT, apparel and agriculture trade

Kenya and United States are in talks to identify areas of interest in information communication technology (ICT) sector that can interest US firms.  A meeting between The US Ambassador to Kenya, Megan Whitman, and the Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade, and Industry Rebecca Miano, the states sought cooperation in six key areas. The meeting laid the groundwork for an enhanced collaboration between Kenya and the United States in...

09 November 2023

Optimism as Kenya-US trade deal enters 3rd round of negotiations

Trade negotiations between Kenya and the United States entered the third round last week, with four items listed for negotiations. The Kenya-US Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) negotiations, held from October 4-7 in Washington DC, covered agriculture and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, services, domestic regulations, anti-corruption; and women, youth among others. The Kenyan trade team also held discussions with...

16 October 2023

Kenya-US trade agreement 'may need a rethink on workers'

The US and Kenya announced a trade and investment partnership in July 2022. Talks have been progressing on the way forward in nine areas, including agriculture, anti-corruption, digital trade, environment and climate change action, and workers’ rights and protections. The Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) will be the first significant trade partnership between the US and a country in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries in the...

16 August 2023

You are here: Home/News/Article/US-Kenya: Ruto’s US state visit needs to navigate America’s uncertain political future