When President William Ruto was hosted by President Samia Suluhu during a working visit at State House Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on October 10, 2022. [PSCU]

Kenya has announced that the Iranian President will embark on a state visit from Wednesday, hours after the highly anticipated visit by the Iranian leader Ebrahim Raisi to Nairobi took an unexpected twist as the scheduled meeting with President Ruto was abruptly rescheduled on Tuesday morning.

Raisi didn’t show up in Nairobi as planned, leaving both Kenyan officials and the public puzzled.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s state visit to Kenya is being considered a sign of renewed relations between Kenya and Iran.

For Tehran- the visit represents a strategic move to expand its diplomatic outreach and engage with African nations highlighting Iran’s interest in diversifying its alliances and exploring new avenues for economic cooperation beyond its traditional partners.

Iran President Ebrahim Raisi. [Standard,file]

This visit marks the first time an Iranian president has visited Kenya in over a decade, to foster closer ties between the two nations.

The state visit is the highest form of diplomatic exchange between two countries.

In many countries, it is only reserved for close friends and allies.

What is a state visit?

A state visit is a solemn ritualistic or formal visit by a Head of State not the government to a foreign country, at the invitation of the host president.

In the case of Commonwealth countries like Canada and Britain whose head of state is King Charles III of England, other leaders can only be accorded an official visit because they are heads of governments.

A state visit to any country is a coveted and unique honour meaning a head of state cannot engage in a state visit if he/she has not been invited. This is a very specific type of visit that focuses on bilateral relations.

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema inspects guard of honor mounted by KDF on June 15, 2022 at State House in Nairobi for bilateral talks. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Such a type of visit is granted to countries with whom Kenya have or want good relations.

It is worth noting that a head of state can be in another country numerous times on official visits and take part in multilateral engagements but that does not imply a state visit.

In this case, although it remains unclear on how long President Raisi will be in the country, Nairobi settled on a state visit for the Iranian leader. This is the highest-ranking form of any diplomatic engagement.

A state visit reflects the highest level of hospitality, honor and formality in relations between nations.

On arrival by the visiting head of state, pomp and color includes playing of the national anthems of the two nations, inspection of a guard of honor with rendering of full military honors that include a 21-gun salute for the visitor.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Emmerson Mnangagwa during the State Reception Ceremony for the Zimbabwe Head of State at State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

This is followed by an official welcome to State House and signing of official guest book before a bilateral meeting followed by a joint press conference.

In a state visit, the visiting head of state is usually accompanied by a small team of between eight to 10 people as part of an official delegation.

Worth noting also is the fact that in such a case, the host country shoulders all the expenses of the visiting delegation for the entire period of visitation.

The visit culminates with the conferment of decorations and exchange of symbolic gifts, sometimes an address by the visiting head of state to the parliament of the host country as well as visits to various national memorials and the inclusion of cultural activities.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta and visiting Burundi Head of State Evariste Ndayishimiye address the press at State Lodge, Kisumu shortly after leading their respective delegations in bilateral talks on May 31, 2021. [PCS]

In some instances, visiting heads of state maybe allowed to lay a wreath at the monument of bomb blast or at the gravesite of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Despite the pomp and color and formal procedures that go with a state visit, a state dinner in honor of the visiting leader is also a crucial part.

The glittering dinner is held at State House, Kenya, the residence of the host president, and has the symbolic value of a visiting dignitary sharing a meal with the Kenyan President and the first lady.

Although the menu typically features food and drinks that reflect the culinary traditions of the guests of honor, it always displays the best of Kenyan hospitality.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta and the visiting President of the Republic of Hungary János Áder witness the signing of four bilateral agreements for cooperation at State House in Nairobi on January 17, 2022. [PCS]

Before such a visit happens, all Memorandum of Understandings are discussed and set as agreed upon by the two sides.

Official Visit

As earlier on stated, an official visit ranges from a head of state to other top government officials like Cabinet Secretaries.

The visiting official tags a long a delegation of up to six officials at the discretion of the host country they can be treated to a luncheon or dinner but in most cases it is not a requirement.

Like a state visit, the host country shoulders the costs for the visit. If the vising delegation includes a head of state, then the host country might choose to extend some honors.

Working visit

With regards to a work visit, the host country receives a visiting delegation to specifically discuss issues concerning their two countries. In this case, no invitation is needed as the visiting delegation shoulders their own cost.

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