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THE ISSUE: This week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson departs on a weeklong trip to Africa with stops in Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria. Tillerson’s trip will be the first time a senior member of the administration has travelled to the region since President Trump took office and may help to clarify aspects the administration’s U.S.-Africa strategy.
Hopefully Secretary Tillerson’s trip will be the beginning of a dialogue that will inform a yet to be released U.S.-Africa strategy.
THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- Africa observers note that Secretary Tillerson’s trip to Africa is a very welcome development. Since the administration came into office at least one of the top three U.S. officials—the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state—has visited every global region except Africa.
- This trip will jumpstart the dialogue that will inform U.S.-Africa policies going forward. Also importantly, in light of the alleged derogatory comments that President Trump made about Africa and Haiti earlier in the year, this trip is an opportunity to renew and strengthen longstanding partnerships on the continent.
- Though the deliverables of this trip, as well as the launch of any new initiatives, remain unclear, the set of countries that Tillerson is visiting indicates that security is indeed the primary focus.
- Djibouti is home to the only U.S. military base on the continent and also an important of refueling post for the U.S. Navy. Kenya and Ethiopia are key strategic partners in the fight against al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa. Nigeria and Chad are important allies in the fight against Boko Haram in the Sahel region.
- If you look at other aspects of U.S.-Africa relations, namely diplomatic or economic, you haven’t seen as much traction as we’re seeing on the security front. The key official at the State Department for Africa has not yet been appointed, and there are key ambassador positions that remain unfilled such as ambassador for South Africa.
- President Trump, in his speech at the United Nations last year, indicated that his administration sees Africa as a viable economic partner, and the continent continues to see immense growth: About half of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies will be on the continent.
- Due to demographic changes and increased regional integration, Africa will be the single largest market in the world in the decades to come. With successful partnerships both within and outside the continent, Africa is poised to overcome its development challenges.
- The economic dynamism of the continent is being recognized by other African partners, particularly Europe, China, and other emerging market economies that have been proactive in strengthening their relationship of the continent. At this point, the United States risks falling behind.
- To be clear, it is not uncommon for U.S. presidents to come into office without a clear Africa strategy and not to have one until well into their first term. President Obama, President Bush, and President Clinton did not roll out strategies until later in their term but nonetheless turned out to be champions of the continent.
- There is still time for this administration to build its own legacy on the continent, and we hope this trip will be the beginning of dialogue and an important step in that direction.