Kenyan President Ruto’s Visit to the U.S. Puts the Spotlight on African Diaspora

May 22, 2024 By Binta Jalloh

U.S. – Africa Relations

President William Ruto of Kenya is visiting the United States this week, in what will be the first state visit in 16 years by an African president. The trip is meant to signal the strength of U.S.-Africa relations, which have suffered recent setbacks due to security realignment in West Africa. A Gallup poll found that China is now viewed more favorably than the U.S. on the continent. This comes as the U.S. is grappling with troop withdrawals in Niger and Chad and facing increased competition from Russia and China on the continent.

President Ruto’s visit will mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Kenya, and Presidents Joe Biden and Ruto are expected to use the state visit to discuss mutual interests, namely, security threats across East Africa, Kenya’s deployment of forces to Haiti, and next year’s Africa Growth and Opportunity Act reauthorization. However, before President Ruto makes his way to Washington, his first stop was in  Atlanta, GA where he met with local leaders including USGLC’s Georgia Advisory Committee members – and members of the African diaspora including engagements with the Center for Disease Control, the Carter Center, and Prosper Africa.

Africa and its Diaspora

Though America’s relationship with Africa has historically been viewed through a lens of benefactor and beneficiary, the dynamic is indeed one of mutual benefit and is continuously evolving. Africa is one of the largest trading blocs in the world and the source of vast natural resources. And with a population expected to double by 2050, one in four people will be African by the next quarter century. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said “Africa will shape the future— and not just the future of the African people but of the world,” signaling the importance of Africa’s prosperity to America’s national and economic security.

The ties between the U.S. and Africa are directly represented through the Black and African immigrants living in America. The African diaspora is recognized as the 6th region of the continent by the African Union, with 200 million people of African descent living around the world. In the U.S., the diaspora includes almost 2 million African immigrants, as well as the 42.3 million descendants of enslaved Africans. While the former has closer cultural and economic ties to the continent, the latter has seen a strengthening of ties to the continent. In 2019, Ghana hosted the Year of the Return to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans’ arrival to the U.S., Sierra Leone began granting passports to Black people in the diaspora who have ancestral roots in the country, and a NY Times report shows that following George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Black Americans have been moving to the continent in search of ‘ancestral connection’.

The diaspora has always played an active role in Africa’s development. In 2021, the diaspora sent over $95 billion in remittances to families in Africa, higher than the $2.4 billion in foreign direct investments on the continent in the same year. There’s the African Diaspora Network, headed by President’s Advisory Council for African Diaspora Engagement member, Almaz Negash, which hosts accelerator programs for African entrepreneurs and Black Americans. And the annual African Diaspora Investment Symposium convenes entrepreneurs to connect diaspora investments with innovative startups in Africa. The U.S. government also supports the African diaspora through various programs:

  • Prosper Africa is a U.S. government initiative that partners with the private sector, the African diaspora, and African governments to increase trade between African countries and the United States.
  • The Young African Leaders Initiative announced the Young African Leaders Exchange that would allow for the first pan-African platform through which YALI alumni and African diaspora can engage.
  • The Export-Import Bank of the United States and the African Export-Import Bank signed a $500 million MOU in 2022 that partly aims to strengthen diaspora commercial engagement in Africa.

The President’s Advisory Council for African Diaspora Engagement

On September 26, 2023, Secretary of State Blinken officially launched the President’s Advisory Council for African Diaspora Engagement. The Advisory Council was established during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in 2022, after the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum highlighted the unique role the African diaspora can play in solving global challenges. The Advisory Council is made up of 12 members of the African Diaspora, and represents individuals in creative industries, business, academia, sports, social work, and faith-based activities. Some notable members include Mimi Alemayehou, Founder and Managing Partner of Semai Ventures LLC and Senior Advisor of the Three Cairns Group, Patrick Gaspard, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, actress and activist Viola Davis, C.D. Glin, President of the PepsiCo Foundation and USGLC board member, and Helene Gayle, the president of Spelman College.

The Advisory Council is tasked with advising the President on how to strengthen ties and exchanges between the African continent, its diaspora, and the U.S., how to leverage public-private-partnerships to improve the socioeconomics of diaspora communities, and how to build African diaspora engagement with initiatives relating to Africa. The Advisory Council recently held their first meeting at Spelman University in Atlanta, Georgia, and discussed priorities around education, trade, easing foreign exchange restrictions, and synergizing the work of the many African diaspora groups around the country. The Advisory Council will be faced with the challenge of focusing their priorities and meeting the sometimes disparate needs of the continent and its diaspora.