U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarked Tuesday on a weeklong tour to five countries across Africa. In a speech Tillerson gave prior to leaving he suggested U.S. policy was shifting towards a focus on security and less on development in Africa.
Mr. Tillerson’s itinerary includes Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya in Eastern Africa and Chad and Nigeria in Central and West Africa. His visit comes just months after harsh remarks made by Donald Trump against Africa and as such is seen as a rift mending mission. Remarks made prior to his trip suggested a U.S. policy change away from focusing on development in Africa to a focus on security.
U.S. policy: development in Africa or security?
Before embarking on the tour Tuesday, Rex Tillerson praised efforts by the U.S. to assist development in Africa. He praised the U.S. for supporting Africa in the form of food aid, construction of infrastructure, and the provision of important drugs for fighting HIV/AIDS, etc.
But he also suggested a shift in U.S. policy that pivots more towards an emphasis on security and less so on focusing on development in Africa and the aid programs he highlighted. Instead Tillerson spoke on the importance of having a strong Africa that is stable in all security matters. He said that the administration of President Trump would focus on addressing security concerns rather than diplomacy and development.
“Africa’s future success is dependent on security, the condition necessary for economic prosperity and stronger institutions” said Tillerson.
The growing presence of the U.S. military in Africa.
True to that, the military footprint of the US in Africa has been gradually growing by day. The largest and permanent base – Camp Lemonier – in Djibouti currently has over 4000 troops. In 2001 only one percent of U.S. commandos were stationed in Africa by 2016 the number had risen to 17 percent.
The decision to travel to Africa has been praised by some experts who think it shows that at least Africa is in Trump’s radar. As the New York Times reported, these sentiments were echoed by Brahima Coulibaly, the Brookings Institution Director of the Africa Growth Initiative. Mr. Coulibaly told the Times the list of countries Tillerson is visiting “reinforces the perception that security, indeed, is the overwhelming focus”.
In Africa though, the visit by Rex Tillerson has been seen by some as a more calculated move. John Stremlau, A professor of International Relations at the Witwatersrand University in South Africa says Mr. Trump sent Tillerson to Africa to re-affirm America’s respect for Africa, especially after his alleged harsh remarks.
Tillerson and the U.S. wary of China’s role in development in Africa.
Other US officials have said Tillerson’s visit to Africa will heavily focus on addressing China’s growing influence in Africa. As reported by The Washington Times, one official lamented that “China, Russia, North Korea and Iran were increasingly extracting rare earth minerals and other resources from several African nations in exchange for easy access and questionable financial loans”.
Speaking at an event at the University of Texas, Tillerson expressed concern for China’s involvement in Africa. At the February event Rex Tillerson said,
“China, as it does in emerging markets throughout the world, offers the appearance of an attractive path to development, but in reality this often involves trading short term gains for long term dependency.”
Tillerson announces $533 million commitment to humanitarian causes in Africa.
On top of his visit, Mr. Tillerson announced a $533 million commitment by the US in humanitarian assistance to aid Africa in curbing famine and food insecurity. The population of Africa is estimated to be 2.5 billion by 2050 and officials worry Africa’s economic growth will not match nor support its population growth.
Mr. Tillerson expressed this concern by remarking,“This growing population of young people, if left without jobs and a hope for the future, will create new ways for terrorists to exploit the next generation, subvert stability and derail democratic governments”.
As the Washington Times reported, some experts saw Africa’s growing population as not only a security concern but also an opportunity.
“That is a security issue, an economic issue problem, but more important, it’s also an opportunity,” said one senior State Department official. “So, the United States says, ‘How do we position ourselves to play a significant role in supporting Africa … not only on economic and commercial development, but in the context of building strong institutions, governance, and security, as well as human rights?’”