US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has departed for a weeklong visit to five countries in Africa – Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad and Djibouti. The visit is slated to end 13 March.
This trip marks Tillerson’s first official visit to Africa as Secretary of State since taking office 14 months ago and will begin in Ethiopia before moving to Djibouti and onto to Kenya, Chad and finally Nigeria.
Prior to his departure Tillerson spoke at George Mason University in Virginia wherein he expressed optimism for opportunities in Africa. However, his tour will likely focus most heavily on issues of terrorism and security – indeed Djibouti is home to Camp Lemonnier, America’s largest African military base. Human rights, democracy and good governance are expected to take a backseat in African discussions in contrast to historical US-African relations.
The trip also cannot avoid the context of China’s increasing expansionism into Africa. China has pumping millions of dollars into various countries. Djibouti is an important example of this with two projects having recently been completed, a railway link with Addis Ababa, the capital of neighbouring Ethiopia, and China’s first overseas military base which is reportedly large enough to rival that of the United States.
President Trump’s disparaging insults about Africans and African countries will likely hang over the trip, and with the chief conversation being on anti-terrorism, important trade and development discussions may well be left on the wayside.