Africa in the news: Tillerson visits Africa, Sierra Leone votes, and Senegal issues eurobond

US Secretary Tillerson begins trip to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad, and Nigeria

On Wednesday, March 7, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for meetings with African Union and Ethiopian officials for the beginning of his week-long visit to the continent. Given the little attention this administration has shown so far to the continent and the lack of new programs or initiatives being launched during this trip, Africa watchers are noting that the visit is more of a “listening tour” for the secretary.

Before his trip, at George Mason University on Tuesday, Tillerson announced $533 million in humanitarian aid to select conflict-affected countries, praised successful U.S. programs such as Power Africa, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and emphasized the rapidly growing economic opportunities on the continent, highlighting its massive demographic shift. However, though trade and investment are not off the table, it seems the overwhelming focus of the trip remains on security, especially given that the countries visited are major partners in combating terrorism and extremism. Nigeria and Chad are key to countering Boko Haram while Ethiopia and Kenya play major roles in fighting al-Shabab. Notably, the secretary’s second stop, Djibouti, also houses the only U.S. military base on the continent.

Another reason for visiting Djibouti may be that the Chinese have also recently established a military base there. Indeed, one major theme of the trip has been countering China’s increasing influence on the continent. In fact, on Thursday, Tillerson warned African countries to be more wary of Chinese deals, saying, “It is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements (with China) and not forfeit their sovereignty,” he added. These remarks repeated concerns he voiced at George Mason.

So far, the Trump administration’s relationship with Africa has remained unclear, if not negative. Major cuts in the U.S. budget to both aid and diplomacy threaten important economic and social programs supported by the U.S. In addition, important diplomatic posts, such as the ambassador to South Africa and the assistant secretary of State for African Affairs remain unfilled. The administration’s decision to pull out of the climate deal has also been a blow to the region as it disproportionately bears the brunt of extreme climate change-related events. President Trump’s alleged derogatory remarks about the continent earlier this year have certainly not encouraged African leaders to warm to the administration. However, on Thursday, Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union commission, stated that “The incident is behind us; the visit by the secretary of state today is proof of the importance of relations between the different parties.”

For more Brookings commentary on the trip, see the recent briefing by Brookings scholars Brahima Sangafowa Coulibaly, Vanda Felbab-Brown, and Witney Schneidman, “A conversation on Secretary Tillerson’s March 2018 Trip to Africa.” Please also see the recent “Unpacked” video by Coulibaly on “The Trump administration’s Africa policy.”

Sierra Leone votes for president while Cameroon’s president shakes up cabinet by adding Anglophone members

On Wednesday, March 7, Sierra Leone held presidential elections to choose a successor to President Ernest Bai Koroma, who is constitutionally barred from running again after serving the maximum of two five-year terms. Sixteen candidates are running to replace President Koroma. Of this large field, Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress and Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party are seen as the front-runners. This week’s elections are the fourth time Sierra Leoneans will vote in a presidential election since the end of the civil war in 2002.  According to Voice of America, despite relative peace while the polls were open, there were reports of clashes between supporters of Bio and the police on Wednesday night. Addressing the clashes, Bio called for calm and expressed hopes that “this does not mar the whole election, which has been relatively smooth.”

Sierra Leone’s economy, which shrank by 20 percent in 2015 after the Ebola epidemic and 2014 commodities downturn, has been a top issue among the electorate, along with youth unemployment and corruption. During this election, voters also elect members of the parliament, which has 112 of 124 seats open, the other 12 reserved for Paramount Chief Members of Parliament. Wednesday’s elections will likely lead to a second round run-off due to the large field of candidates and the 55 percent of votes required to win outright.

In other political news, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya reshuffled his cabinet, adding two ministers from the country’s Anglophone minority. These additions to the cabinet come as the crisis in the country’s Anglophone regions has intensified and the country is scheduled to hold elections later this year. Experts hope that the additions to the cabinet with help stabilize relations and appease detractors in the Anglophone region, which has increasingly called for more self government.

Senegal issues $2.2 billion in eurobond notes

On Tuesday, Senegal received more than $10 billion of orders for a $2.2 billion eurobond. Part of the funds will also go toward financing infrastructure and power production projects. The notes were divided into two tranches: a dollar tranche and a euro one. The nation sold 1 billion euro ($1.2 billion) in notes with an average maturity of nine years and a 4.75 yield. Separately, the nation sold $1 billion with an average life of 29-year and a 6.75 yield. The high demand signals the voracious appetite for African debt and the great level of confidence investors have for Senegal’s macroeconomic climate. The Senegalese government will use nearly $200 million of the deal, managed by BNP Paribas SA, Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, Natixis SA, Societe Generale SA, and Standard Chartered Plc, toward buying back some dollar securities maturing in 2021.

The West African nation follows in the steps of fellow African nations—Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya—who have sold $8.5 billion in eurobonds this year. The high appetite for African debt can be attributed to its high yields; Africa’s debt yields 6 percent against 5.5 percent for emerging nations and 4 percent for developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Presently, South Africa, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Angola, and Tanzania are reportedly considering issuing eurobonds this year.