U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Africa this weekend as the first U.S. cabinet official to visit in more than 18 months, and he is certain to face questions about the U.S. military’s future on the continent and new U.S. visa restrictions against millions of Africans.
Pompeo is visiting Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia;His visit comes as the U.S. military considers reducing its presence in West Africa’s Sahel region while extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group expand their reach, killings hundreds of civilians.
Pompeo last year said the Sahel should be the next focus of the global coalition against IS outside the group’s core region.
Pompeo will meet with the countries’ leaders and business people. His first stop in long-stable Senegal is aimed at solidifying ties with the one West African Sahel country that has avoided the extremist attacks that target Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The U.S. military this month holds its annual Flintlock exercises in Senegal and neighboring Mauritania to help train regional armies to counter extremism.
After Senegal, Pompeo will stop next week in Angola, an oil-rich but largely impoverished country where President Joao Lourenco is making strides against corruption, including actions against close relatives of the former leader.
Then Pompeo heads to Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation with more than 100 million people and the headquarters of the African Union.
Ethiopia, a key U.S. security ally in the Horn of Africa, has undergone dramatic political reforms since Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018.
He noted that Ethiopia, a country of more than 80 ethnic groups, is a “fragmented society” and “highly politicized,” and he called on the opposition to practice civil politics.
“Ethiopia, I would argue, is the most important country on the continent today,” Witney Schneidman, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told a Brookings Institution briefing this week.