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The US House Committee on Foreign Affairs has put in a formal request to Speaker Mike Johnson to invite President William Ruto to address a joint session of the Congress, potentially providing the Kenyan leader with a new podium to state his ideals.

Committee Chairman Michael McGaul and Ranking Member Gregory W Meeks on Wednesday wrote to Speaker Johnson asking him to send a formal invite to Nairobi, to tally with Ruto’s upcoming state visit to Washington later in May.

“This year, we are celebrating the historic 60-year anniversary of the US-Kenya diplomatic relationship. Such an invitation would underscore the importance of the US-Kenya relationship and send a valuable signal to the people of Africa,” the two lawmakers said.

If Johnson agrees to the request, it would be the first time in 18 years an African president has addressed the Congress.

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Liberia’s former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did so eighteen years ago and used the occasion to tell of her country’s rise from the ashes of a deadly civil war.

Some analysts say such an invitation could show confidence in Kenya’s new leadership, at a time Washington has struggled to whip its usual allies to a common stand.

“Kenya is placed to become the leading ally of the US in Africa. Especially with South Africa taking positions antagonistic to the US, Nigeria unable to prevent democratic backsliding in its Ecowas (Western Africa bloc) backyard and domestic turmoil in its Northern regions and Egypt uncertain on its leadership role in the Middle East and Africa,” said David Monda, Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York.

“It is a major foreign policy triumph for President Ruto. This is unprecedented since independence in 1963. Dr Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia was the only African head of state to address a joint session of Congress 18 years ago.”

But it means Ruto’s speech has to be tampered. When he began the presidency, Ruto challenged African nations to ditch the dollar, open markets and use local currencies. He also spoke for a Pan-African agenda, criticising usual summoning of African leaders to capitals for summits. He spoke for climate change policies too.

Since then, he has avoided the dollar question, especially since he has also taken new credits in dollar denominated loans.

He has retained climate policy proposals as his pet subject, including hosting a key summit of African leaders last year in September to discuss common policies.

If the Congress does the invite, it will be third major legislative forum he would have addressed outside the country since he became president. He spoke at a Pan-African Parliament session in South Africa last year where he called for delegated powers to the African Union to represent countries.

In November last year, he spoke at a formal sitting in Strasbourg, France, of the European Parliament, where he Ruto demanded new forms of cooperation between the EU and Africa based on mutually beneficial strategies.

He told European lawmakers then that the EU must pay particular attention to the challenges caused by climate change, making everyone equal “in the face of a shared global challenge, transcending all divides North-South, East-West, developed and developing.”

The lawmakers gave him a standing ovation after the speech.

His trip to the US, later this month, will come as Washington pushes allies across the world to stand against Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.

The US has also struggled to defend Israel in the face of mounting atrocities in Gaza. Nairobi has played on the Washington side on both issues, even though it also raised concerns about the human rights violations in Gaza.

—Source: Reuters 

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