Source: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
The high-level diplomatic activity marked a strategic transition of Washington as its rivals have made rapid and strong steps in this potential continent.
This is the first visit made by a Secretary of State of the President Donald Trump’s administration to the south countries of the Sahara desert in Africa, with the aim of laying out a “positive vision” for the cooperation between the US and the “dark continent” as the White House has declared. This is clearly shown through the selection of three countries that Secretary of State M. Pompeo would visit: Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia. According to the US State Department, all three countries are at different stages of the “democratic transition and stability” process and have made great contributions to the regional development.
Violence and poverty are major and permanent challenges in the “dark continent”; however, the potential of natural and labour resources as well as opportunities on trade and investment and the initial successes in reducing conflicts and violence have drew the great attention of many powers, including the US, to the Africa.
Pompeo’s visit also aimed to tap and take advantage of golden opportunities in the continent whose population is projected to double by 2050. According to the White House, the main topic of discussion is the formation of a “vision” for the US-Africa cooperation, focusing on economic growth in the continent and the increase of the US’s trade and investment.
Ahead of his trip, the US official said that his talks with leaders of the three African countries and the African Union (AU) would revolve around the themes related to encouragement of economic reform, expansion of markets and partnership, fight against corruption and promotion of the rule of law in Africa, bringing more investment and trade opportunities for the US. The above message of the President Donald Trump’s administration was said to coincide with the new economic policies in the countries that Pompeo would visit.
In Ethiopia, PM Abiy Ahmed has boosted the economic liberalisation through the encouragement of private sector. Angolan President João Lourenço wanted to reduce its economy’s excessive dependence on the oil industry and promote anti-corruption. With such reform policies, the US has adequate competence and is ready to provide technical assistance.
Another advantage with Washington’s ambition is the actual development in Africa. According to experts, the demand of investment capital in the “dark continent” is very large, especially in the field of infrastructure. Meanwhile, the credit from international banking and financial organisations for Africa is limited. The US’s opportunities are greater as African countries are seeking alternative solutions and sources of investment due to concerns about “debt traps” and high-risk warnings from some foreign capital sources.
Beside advantages, US Secretary of State M. Pompeo’s first trip to the region will also face challenges, stemming from the White House’s strategy which was said to lack links with Africa and even neglects its benefits. In fact, the Trump administration’s first Africa strategy was launched 14 months ago, but it has not made any real progress. Meanwhile, the US rivals have constantly invested and expanded their influence in the continent. The last visit of high-ranking officials of the White House to Africa was made by US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to Ethiopia, Kenya, Ivory Coast, and Ghana, 19 months ago. This is the first visit by the Secretary of State M. Pompeo to Africa after nearly two years in office.
Meanwhile, Washington unveiled a series of contradictory policy messages, which can be seen clearly in the last steps of the White Houses, such as the budget cuts for the aid programmes in Africa that was considered as a “reverse wind”. The adjustment of military strategy, towards reducing the presence of US forces in Africa, is the most suspicious. The Pentagon’s plan could undermine US commitment to the security of the “dark continent” in the context of the ongoing conflicts in many parts of the region.
The great opportunities in Africa have pushed Washington to adjust its strategy, not to “lag behind” its partners and competitors. However, the outline of a new “strategic vision” between the two sides is a great challenge during the trip of the US Secretary of State.