Rex Tillerson, the United States Secretary of State, will visit a couple of African countries including Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, on his first diplomatic visit to Africa. This comes at an important time when countries like Nigeria and Chad are struggling with attacks from the Boko Haram insurgency while Ethiopia and Kenya are plagued with political crises. The visit could also indicate the direction of the Trump administration in Africa.
On Thursday, a statement by Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the State Department, revealed that Tillerson will travel to Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria on his first trip to Africa as a top U.S. diplomat. The visit to Africa will last from March 6th – 13th. He will also be meeting with the leadership in each country as well as the leadership of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
The relationship between the United States and Africa under President Trump’s administration did not necessarily begin on the best note with the president’s tough stance on immigration which is affecting many Africans in the diaspora and on the continent; condescending comments made by the president, which he publicly denied afterwards; and the recent disagreement with some East African leaders on the importation of second-hand clothes.
Last November, Tillerson, who garnered some experience on the continent during his time as Chief Executive of ExxonMobil and relatively understands the place, spoke highly of the economic potentials of the continent. “Africa is a growing market with vast potential. Five of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and consumer spending there is projected to exceed $2 trillion by the year 2025,” he reportedly said ahead of the ministerial talks with foreign ministers and representatives of 37 African countries at the State Department in Washington.
At that meeting, Tillerson had also stated the intention of the U.S. to refocus the relationship with Africa squarely on trade and investment, to help unlock the tremendous potential of the continent. However, since the beginning of President Trump’s tenure, trade tariffs have shown little trade and investment interest in Africa; the president, has so far been consistent with the “America First” economic agenda. But seeing as one of the objectives of the visit is to “spur mutually beneficial trade and investment,” the Secretary of State can help us make sense of the U.S. trade policies towards Africa.
So far, the defining feature of this administration’s Africa policy is its ramping-up counterterrorism engagement. The main agenda for countries like Nigeria and Chad would be forging a partnership to work to defeat terrorism and address the root causes of violent extremism. Nigeria has been facing extreme violence and terrorism from groups like the Boko Haram and the herdsmen. The Boko Haram recently kidnapped about 110 girls in a secondary school in Dapchi, Yobe state. Last year, Chad who was always ally with the US in counterterrorism were placed on the list of countries banned from entering the U.S. by the Trump administration because it “does not adequately share public safety and terrorism-related information.”
Amid the political crisis going on in Ethiopia and Kenya, the Secretary of State’s visit to both countries will reveal what intervention measures the U.S. plans to take on both countries.
Tillerson had reiterated the importance of democracy for Africa to achieve her potentials. “Democracy requires the inclusive, peaceful participation of a nation’s citizens in the political process,” he said. “That includes freedoms of expression and association, an independent press, a robust and engaged civil society, a government that is transparent and accountable to all of its citizens, and a fair and impartial judiciary,” explained Tillerson to African representatives in Washington.
Earlier this month, on February 17, the US embassy in Addis Ababa released a statement saying the US “strongly disagrees” with the state of emergency imposed by Ethiopia on February 16.
With Trump showing little understanding of the continent — the president has made very few remarks that show a proper understanding of the continent, but Tillerson’s visit would give us a clearer insight into the possibility of any beneficial partnership to evolve between the continent and the United States.