Biden meets with Kenya’s president amid crisis in Ethiopia

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Biden meets with Kenya’s president amid crisis in Ethiopia

WASHINGTON – President Biden announced Thursday the donation of millions of coronavirus vaccines to a group of African countries battling the pandemic and a humanitarian disaster in neighboring Ethiopia during a meeting with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Biden administration donated 17 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union a month after Mr Kenyatta publicly requested for more equitable vaccine distribution around the world. At a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Kenyan president criticized the “inequality” of vaccine supplies, an apparent reference to countries such as the United States that are administering booster shots rather than donating more vaccines to countries in need. . .

During Mr Biden’s first personal meeting with the leader of an African country at the White House, Kenyatta thanked him for the donation, while also suggesting it was not enough.

“As a continent, we are well behind the rest of the world in being able to vaccinate our people,” Mr Kenyatta said.

Mr Biden committed to sending more vaccines to Kenya by the end of the year.

“We are continuing our shared fight against Covid,” he said, before evicting reporters from the Oval Office. “We are going to discuss what else the United States can do together on the Horn of Africa to advance peace and security.”

The meeting came at a crucial time for Kenya, which is grappling with a raging dispute with Somalia over its maritime border, a fragile peace in South Sudan and the diplomatic challenge of preventing an accelerated civil war and famine in northern Ethiopia’s Tigre region. .

In Mr Kenyatta, the current chairman of the UN Security Council, the Biden administration sees a participant in efforts to stem the ongoing violence in Ethiopia, as well as threats from Al Shabaab in Somalia.

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Mr Biden and Mr Kenyatta were expected to discuss the situation in the Tigre region, where some fighters have been accused of atrocities against civilians, including sexual violence, genocide and ethnic cleansing. Last month, Ethiopia expelled several top UN officials amid allegations that the country was halting aid distribution to the region, even as at least five million people died during a catastrophic famine. need help.

The decision to expel UN officials was also seen as a rebuke for Mr Biden, who last month threatened to issue broad sanctions against the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments as well as the Tigre People’s Liberation Front and the Amhara regional government. was given. Increasing violence. But the administration has yet to execute a financial penalty against a strategic ally.

It is unclear whether the United States, either directly or through Kenya, will act to prevent widespread sexual violence in the civil war or aid the hundreds of thousands of tigers living in famine-like conditions. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki did not provide an updated timeline for sanctions when asked Thursday.

“Obviously, what’s happening in Ethiopia – it’s a tyranny,” she said. “it’s terrible.”

Mr Biden and Mr Kenyatta also talked about the economy, climate change and “strengthening financial transparency”, Mr Biden said at the start of their discussion.

“You’ve talked to him, Mr President,” he told Mr Kenyatta. “I want to talk to you about it.”

Discussions about finance were among the most tense after the release this month of the Pandora Papers report, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and news media partners, including The Washington Post and The Guardian, which discussed offshore financial services. information exposed. Industry helped the rich hide their wealth. Mr Kenyatta, who campaigned on promises to reduce corruption, was among more than 330 current and former politicians involved in the report who benefited from offshore businesses and foundations that manage their assets.

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Ms Psaki had earlier called Mr Biden’s meeting with Mr Kenyatta necessary, saying she did not think the president would “back down.”

“We have many interests in working with Kenya and working with them on issues in Africa, the region and this will be the primary focus of the meeting,” he said.

For Mr Kenyatta, the meeting was an opportunity to strengthen ties with the United States as his country grapples with the economic turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenya has also been deeply indebted after taking huge loans from China to pursue large infrastructure projects. Mr Biden has tended to focus his national security strategy on countering China’s growing economic influence.

Tensions are rising between Kenya and another neighbour, Somalia, after the top UN court sided with Somalia in a dispute over how to demarcate a region in the Indian Ocean known to be rich in oil and gas. The decision deepened uncertainty in the Horn of Africa.

“Kenya’s neighborhood is getting harder and harder,” said Michelle D. Gavin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former US ambassador to Botswana. “It needs to be able to weather the storm not only in terms of its own security issues, but to be a regional leader of sorts.”

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