Shortly before embarking on his first official visit to Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. is committed to building on a “strong foundation of U.S.-Africa relations” and accused China of “encouraging dependency” in its approach to Africa.
In his first speech describing the administration’s Africa policy, Tillerson said the U.S. is “eager” to lower barriers to trade and investment in Africa, whose largest trading partner by far is China. He added that the U.S. approach of “incentivizing good governance” contrasts sharply to China’s, “which encourages dependency, using opaque contracts, predatory loan practices and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt and undercut their sovereignty.”
Tillerson’s one-week, five-nation trip will focus on counterterrorism, promoting peace, good governance and trade and investment.
“Our country’s security and economic prosperity are linked with Africa’s like never before,” the top U.S. diplomat said before an audience at George Mason University just outside of Washington.
The trip comes two months after President Donald Trump triggered a wave of controversy when he reportedly referred to African nations as “s***hole countries” during an Oval Office meeting on immigration with a bipartisan group of senators.
The African Union, which represents 55 countries on the continent, demanded an apology from Trump. A group of African ambassadors to the United Nations also denounced Trump’s remarks, saying they were “outrageous, racist and xenophobic.”
After more than a year since entering the White House, Trump still has not nominated a chief U.S. diplomat for Africa. And embassies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Africa and in five other African countries remain without ambassadors.
Tillerson is scheduled to meet with top officials in the allied nations of Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, some of which are helping in the battle against rebellions from jihadists linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State.
“To understand where the world is going, one must understand Africa is the future,” Tillerson said, noting Africa will be home this year to six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies and will have one-fourth of the world’s workforce by 2030.
Without partnerships to build infrastructure and achieve more economic development, Tillerson warned there will be “new ways for terrorists to exploit the next generation.” He said the administration is willing to collaborate with African countries to address the “drivers of conflict” and to build the “institutional law enforcement capacity of African nations.”
Tillerson also said the U.S. and African leaders “must work to find long-term diplomatic solutions” to regional conflicts “that cause so much human suffering.” He announced the U.S. will give $533 million in additional aid to alleviate famine and other needs caused by conflicts in Ethiopia, the Lake Chad Basin, Somalia and South Sudan.
“Greater stability will attract United States’ trade and investment with African nations,” he said.
Tillerson’s trip will overlap with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is scheduled to visit Ethiopia at the same time.