WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Joe Biden plans to address the need for “transparency and accountability” in international and domestic financial systems when he meets Thursday with Kenya’s leader. President Uhuru Kenyatta is under scrutiny over revelations that he and his family stashed millions of dollars in hidden offshore accounts.
Kenyatta is one of more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of secret accounts revealed in recent reports known as the Pandora Papers. He and his relatives have some $30 million in offshore holdings, according to reporting by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The consortium obtained millions of leaked documents that detail the hidden wealth of prominent world leaders, politicians, corporate executives and celebrities. Kenyatta has denied wrongdoing.
Biden was expected to address the “elephant in the room” during his afternoon meeting in the Oval Office with Kenyatta and senior Kenyan officials, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has been vocal about what he sees as “inequalities” in the international financial system.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t meet with people you have disagreements on,” Psaki said. “We have a range of interests in working with Kenya and working with them on issues in Africa, in the region, and that will be the primary focus.”
The visit comes at a difficult moment in East Africa as a nearly yearlong war in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia continues to roil the region.
The United States is looking to Kenya, long an ally on counterterrorism efforts, to help wind down the conflict in neighboring Ethiopia that has left the area gripped by human-made famine. Biden has threatened to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials and others involved in the conflict if the fighting doesn’t wind down soon.
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the meeting with a strategic partner was “long overdue.” He urged Biden to use the meeting to address internal tensions in several parts of Kenya and the impact they could have on next year’s election.
Risch also said he’s concerned about Kenya racking up debt with China, which accounts for about one-third of Kenya’s 2021-22 external debt service costs and is its biggest foreign creditor after the World Bank.
“The Biden administration should make these issues front and center in discussions with President Kenyatta and other senior Kenyan officials this week,” Risch said.
The meeting will be Biden’s first one-on-one, in-person engagement as president with an African leader.
The White House said the leaders were also expected to discuss democracy and human rights issues, as well as security, economic growth and climate change.