Biden Promises Africa Visit if Reelected Amid Growing US- China Scramble for Africa

Presidents William Ruto and Joe Biden speaking during a roundtable discussion on technology at the White House, May 22.

As the United States navigates its complex relationship with Africa, President Joe Biden has pledged an official visit to the continent in February, contingent on his reelection this November.

Speaking during a question and answer session with President William Ruto and business leaders to discuss an innovative future between the two countries, Biden hinted at visiting Kenya, which would make him the second US president to do so.

This commitment comes as analysts suggest that Biden’s warm reception of Kenyan President William Ruto aims to underscore the U.S.'s dedication to Africa, even at the end of his current term.

Biden made the announcement during President Ruto's arrival at the White House, where the two leaders commenced a two-day summit featuring high-level discussions and a state dinner.

The President, a Democrat, faces a reelection bid against Republican rival and former President Donald Trump in the November 5 election.

“I plan on going in February after I am reelected,” Biden stated, indicating confidence in his electoral success. This visit would mark Biden's first to Africa, despite his administration's repeated affirmations of the continent’s strategic importance.

President William Ruto (left) having a talk with the United States President Joe Biden at the White House on May 22, 2024.

Senior administration officials disclosed that Biden and Ruto would deliberate on various issues, including trade, debt relief, and geopolitical matters involving Haiti, Ukraine, and Sudan.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan mentioned that while there was no formal announcement yet, Biden looked forward to visiting Africa as president. 

The promise of a visit to Angola was also hinted at during a recent Oval Office meeting with Angolan President Joao Lourenco, although no specific dates were discussed. This highlights the Biden administration’s broader strategy to strengthen ties with African nations.

President Ruto's state visit is significant, as he becomes the first African leader in over 15 years to receive such an honour from the U.S. This gesture is seen as an attempt by Biden to demonstrate a renewed commitment to Africa, especially at a time when global rivals like Russia and China are expanding their influence on the continent.

Kenya, a key security partner in East Africa, has bolstered its relationship with the U.S. by pledging to deploy Kenyan police to Haiti. Last year, Biden’s only phone call to a sub-Saharan African leader was to Ruto, discussing Nairobi’s leadership in a multinational force for Haiti.

This state visit is perceived by analysts as a compensatory move for Biden's unfulfilled promise to visit Africa, made during a grand summit of African leaders in Washington two years ago. At that event, Biden had assured attendees of his administration's commitment to the continent. However, subsequent global crises, such as the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, have diverted his focus.

Historically, only six US heads of state have made official visits to Africa. The first visit occurred during World War II when Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly traveled to French Morocco for the Casablanca Conference in 1943. More recently, in 2015, Barack Obama, the first president of the United States of African American descent, made a historic visit to Kenya, his father's birthplace. To date, an American president has visited 14 of the 46 African countries classified as Sub-Saharan by the United Nations.

Besides Roosevelt and Obama, other Presidents who have made trips to Africa are; Jimmy Carter, George Bush senior and junior, and Bill Clinton. The presidents have toured countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Africa among others.

The Biden administration had announced a new strategy aimed at transforming U.S.-Africa relationships into more equitable partnerships, benefiting mutual strategic interests. President Ruto’s visit is seen as a testament to this approach, though it comes amid U.S. setbacks in West Africa.

The state visit is also a platform for Biden to address growing concerns over strained relations with other African allies, as Russia and China challenge traditional Western influence in the region. 

President William Ruto received by US President Joe Biden at the White House on May 23, 2024.