The first major visit to the African region from a high-profile American official in the troubled Trump administration was cut short due to diplomatic issues between the United States and North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former oil industry leader who has been at odds with President Donald Trump on various issues, participated in a brief meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria before returning to the White House on Monday.
In addition to cutting short his visit by one full day, Tillerson also canceled some activities during his visit to Kenya on Saturday because he was not feeling well. This is not the first time that health and fatigue have sidelined the 65-year-old Secretary of State during his visits to foreign countries as the top US diplomat.
Concerns Over Chinese Interests in the Region
At a press conference before arriving in Africa, Tillerson made very clear that one of his main concerns is seeing how quickly and extensively the People’s Republic of China has expanded in the region, and his visit to Djibouti certainly reflects this concern, for this is where a major Chinese naval base sits next door to an American military outpost.
Kenya is another country where Chinese investment is palpable; this is where the Asian economic power has already completed a major railway project and is expected to continue expanding it.
Tillerson has actually hinted that China may be using its vast access to capital and industrial resources to build infrastructure with the ultimate goal of finagling deals such as building military bases in Africa, which happens to have been a strategy previously used by the US.
For all the progress that Tillerson hoped to achieve during his visit to Africa, there is no question that the White House has not given him much in terms of support. The Trump administration’s actions on Africa have been dismal: from banning entry to travelers from Chad to lifting the ban on elephant trophy imports; and from reducing financial aid budgets to cutting down on HIV prevention in the continent, Tillerson had to push for rush approval of a humanitarian aid package for drought-stricken regions of Chad, Nigeria and Somalia prior to his arrival.
With not much to work with, Tillerson’s meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi included a recommendation to the Kenyan government to go easier on the media and the judicial system, particularly with regard to political opposition, and this is advice that any democracy should follow.
After visits to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, Tillerson headed to Chad, where he met with President Idriss Deby. The American official promised that Chad would be removed from the infamous list of nations that have restrictions in terms of travel to the US. The reason Chad is on the list has more to do with passport technicalities than with risk assessments. If anything, Chad is known as an African nation that has collaborated with the US in terms of eradicating terrorist factions.
In Nigeria, Tillerson’s visit was very short as he met with President Buhari and expressed his sadness about the recent kidnapping of more than 100 schoolgirls in the Yobe State. He promised more military assistance to fight the terrible Boko Haram terrorist organization.
In the end, and considering the terrible handling of foreign affairs that the US President has shown, Tillerson’s visit was the most Americans and Africans could hope for at a very difficult time.