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Why Obama slipped away before Ruto & Biden's toast at White House State Dinner

Former President Obama's brief presence at the White House made headlines across media stations in the U.S.

Former US President Barack Obama leaving the White House State Dinner in honour of President William Ruto on May 23, 2024. Photo credit: AFP
  • President Joe Biden hosted President William Ruto of Kenya for a State Dinner at the White House
  • Former U.S. President Barack Obama made a brief appearance at the dinner and then left early
  • President Biden reminisced about the historical ties between the United States and Kenya

U.S. President Joe Biden hosted President William Ruto of Kenya for a State Dinner on the South Lawn of the White House on May 23.

The event marked a celebration of the deep-rooted friendship and shared values between the United States and Kenya.

The presence of former U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House's State Dinner was as brief as it was significant, stirring curiosity and speculation.

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While the event was designed to celebrate the strong ties between the United States and Kenya, Obama's early departure has left many wondering about the underlying reasons.

Obama, whose father was Kenyan had not been included in the list of 500 visitors shared by the White House. Nevertheless, he showed up in a black and white tuxedo, making headlines on U.S. media houses.

According to his office, the former president attended a reception in the White House Blue Room and made a brief appearance in the dinner area.

He engaged with some of the guests for about 10 minutes before he slipped out through a side door, before President Biden & President Ruto could make their remarks.

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When he spoke, the U.S. head of state mentioned Obama's brief presence.

"Jill and I are honoured to have you (President Ruto) here and representing, including many members of the African diaspora. One just left, Barack (Obama). He met the president this morning and was just here a little while ago," Biden said.

While the official reason for Obama's early exit was not provided, several factors may have contributed to his decision.

Former President Obama's involvement in Biden's re-election campaign is well-known, and his presence at the dinner, along with that of former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Melinda French Gates provided the star power.

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However, Obama's departure before the main events of the evening suggests a possible desire to maintain a delicate balance between supporting Biden and not overshadowing the current administration's efforts​​​​.

Additionally, Obama's brief appearance allowed him to acknowledge and honour the Kenyan delegation without diverting too much attention from the primary purpose of the evening – celebrating the U.S.- Kenya relationship and President Ruto's visit.

It is also plausible that personal commitments or strategic political considerations necessitated his early departure​​.

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The White House State Dinner commenced with President Biden warmly welcoming President Ruto and his delegation.

"Welcome to the White House," Biden began, with a touch of humor. "The White House never looked this good. There is a bright light in the White House tonight with our guests who have been impressive and accommodating. Jill and I are honored to have you here, representing, including many members of the African diaspora."

Reflecting on the historical ties between the two nations, President Biden reminisced about past interactions and the foundational beliefs that unite the United States and Kenya.

"We share a strong respect for the history that connects us together," he said.

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Biden highlighted the pioneering efforts of President Carter, who was the first U.S. President to host a Kenyan president (Daniel Moi) at an official dinner.

At that time, Carter referred to the two nations as "neighbours" who, despite not sharing borders, shared profound beliefs in freedom, democracy, dignity, and equality.

Biden concluded his remarks with an Irish toast, symbolising good wishes and enduring friendship.

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"May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warmly on your face. May the rains fall softly on your fields. Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand. To Kenya, to our guests, enjoy your dinner," he toasted.

President William Ruto responded with heartfelt gratitude and admiration for the American people and their hospitality.

"I thank you, Mr. President, very sincerely for your invitation for me to undertake this state visit," Ruto said.

He commended the American spirit of openness, goodwill, authenticity, and generosity, which he believed greatly enhanced his appreciation of the United States' achievements.

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Highlighting the robust socio-economic, security, technological, and people-to-people ties between Kenya and the United States, Ruto emphasised the shared values that fortify their bond of friendship.

"We gather here on behalf of the people of our nations to further strengthen the friendship, solidarity, and mutual endeavour that has united us for many decades.

"This partnership has kept us strong, effective, and dynamic in our pursuit of freedom, equality, and prosperity," he remarked.

He expressed that the achievements during the visit were nothing short of phenomenal.

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Expressing gratitude to First Lady Jill Biden, President Ruto praised the warmth and generosity he and his delegation experienced during their stay.

"Madame First Lady, you have been so kind. We have shared your home for days and have been treated with touching and manifest generosity. This is a warm, wonderful, beautiful place, and we are blessed to have been privileged to visit," he said.

In a toast, President Ruto called upon the guests to celebrate the enduring friendship between Kenya and the United States.

"It is now my honour to ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to raise your glasses and join me in a toast to the continued well-being and long life of President Joe Biden and of First Lady Jill, to the continued security and prosperity of the people of the United States, and to the enduring bonds of friendship, partnership, and solidarity between Kenya and the United States. To the president," he concluded.

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The State Dinner at the White House served not only as a symbol of the strong bilateral relations between Kenya and the United States but also as a reaffirmation of their commitment to democracy, security, and prosperity.

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