U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flew to Ethiopia at the start of his first diplomatic trip to Africa on Wednesday, seeking to bolster security alliances on a continent increasingly turning to China for aid and trade.
U.S. officials did not release a detailed schedule but said Tillerson would focus on discussing ways of fighting terrorism and promoting stability, trade and investment on the week-long tour.
In a speech laying out the administration’s Africa policy, Tillerson said the continent’s rapid economic growth and fast-rising populations mean its future is increasingly linked to America’s. He said the U.S. was committed to helping, but that prosperity and basic stability would be impossible until the security situation is brought under control.
“My firm belief is that there is ample opportunity on the continent for economic growth, for greater prosperity, and for responding to global challenges through mutually respectful partnerships,” Tillerson said.
It’s a starkly different message from the one Trump delivered in a meeting with U.S. lawmakers this year that soon became public, forcing humiliated U.S. ambassadors to apologize and Trump to send a letter to African leaders affirming his respect.
Many African Union officials are still smarting from U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported dismissal of member states as “shithole” countries in January. Trump later denied making the comment.
Tillerson was due to visit the east African powerhouses of Ethiopia, the home of the African Union, and Kenya – where the political system is in turmoil over disputes related to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election. The government reacted aggressively when opposition leader Raila Odinga held a mock inauguration, shutting down TV stations and arresting opposition politicians, but the U.S. has largely voiced support for Kenyatta.
He was also scheduled to visit tiny Djibouti, host to sprawling U.S., French and Chinese military bases.
In West Africa, Tillerson will visit Chad and Nigeria, both major oil-producers struggling to contain the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency.
Analysts say Trump has focused mainly on security concerns in Africa at a time when China, Turkey and other nations are ramping up diplomatic and business links.