Ruto defends summit trips he once criticised

William Ruto

Kenya’s President William Ruto has defended his attendance at this week’s Italy-Africa summit, months after he heavily criticised the habit of summoning African leaders to foreign capitals.

In a statement issued after the meeting in Rome, the Kenyan leader walked back some of the criticism, saying instead he supported the pragmatic arrangement of selecting a group of leaders to represent the continent.

“I have previously noted that an invitation extended by one country to all 54 African nations did not necessarily serve Africa’s best interests,” he said in a statement after the meeting in the Madama Palace in Rome.

“But those of us present at this conference, representing our colleagues, find it different and inspiring due to the pragmatic approach you have taken, Madam Prime Minister.”

Ruto joined several other African leaders gathered for Italy’s Africa Summit. But Rome is only the latest capital to host such summits after Beijing, London, Moscow, Brussels, New Delhi, Riyadh and Washington.

As far back as April last year, Ruto said he hated being herded into halls or buses like schoolchildren.

He said he supported the idea of being represented by the African Union. It is the same reason he gave when he skipped the Russia-Africa Summit in July last year.

“It is not intelligent for 54 African Presidents to go and sit before one president from another country for a summit. Sometimes, we are mistreated. We are loaded onto buses like school kids. It is not right,” he argued at the Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend in Nairobi in April 2023.

“The decision we have made as AU is that going forward, if there is going to be a discussion between Africa and any other country, we would send the chair and the bureau. That is the position I am taking as the president of Kenya.”

In Rome, however, the Nation understands that Ruto travelled as chairman of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

His statement defended Africa’s right to extract fossil fuels, although he argued that local economies shouldn’t be dependent on them.

“I firmly believe that no African country can be asked to halt the exploration of its natural resources, including fossil fuels,” Ruto said.

“But that does not mean that it makes economic sense to build a dependency on fossil fuels in our economies…true non-predatory cooperation should ensure that African countries are not left with a stranded asset.”

Other leaders attending the Italy-Africa Summit include Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Comoros leader and African Union Chairperson Azali Assoumani, Tunisia’s Kais Saied, Senegal’s Macky Sall and Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congo-Brazzaville.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, keen to reduce the burden of illegal immigrants from Africa, had rallied the continent’s leaders with an offer, pledging an initial €5.5 billion (Ksh965 billion) and calling it cooperation among equals.

But Italy is also the biggest carrier of migrants from Africa, taking in some 157,000 last year, according to the European Commission. They arrived on risky boats off the coast of North Africa.


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