Trade

Mike Pompeo woos Africa, but its a tough sell

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeos whirlwind tour of Africa in recent days had hoped to revamp Americas business interests on the continent and counter years of Chinese dominance.

Instead, he was made to explain a series of contradictory messages coming out of Washington, from threats to pull U.S. troops out of the war-scarred Sahel region to a travel ban that restricts immigrant visas for citizens from Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.

Whats more, Americas struggle to provide Africa with a clear strategic plan for its future relationship with the U.S. stands in stark contrast to Europes recent pivot to the region. The EUs new top brass have made a point of staking out a new approach to the continent since taking office in December, with trade and supporting the African Union top of the agenda.

“These decisions [by Washington] are not expressions to me of an integrated strategy or ambitions strategy of the U.S. to partner with Africa,” said Alfonso Medinilla, a policy officer at the European Centre for Development Policy Management, referring to the recent U.S. visa ban and an upcoming decision to reduce military spending in Africa. “Whereas on the European side what were seeing is very different thinking. At the start of the political cycle in the European Union, all you hear about is Africa.”

Pompeos visit on Tuesday to Ethiopias capital, Addis Ababa, where he met with the countrys firebrand Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, came days after a check-in by European Council President Charles Michel. The Belgians message was that Brussels wants a deeper strategic partnership with Africa that benefits both sides — even if some on the continent are wary of whether the shift is genuine.

“For a long time American policymakers have viewed Africa essentially as a problem to be solved, while Beijing perceived the continent as an area that abounds with opportunity” — Murithi Mutiga, analyst

EU officials say Europe is preparing new financial mechanisms designed to guarantee private investment in infrastructure projects so that Africa can achieve its challenging goal of implementing a continental-wide free-trade zone.

But while Pompeo said Tuesday that “American businesses are looking to get in” to Ethiopia and prioritize investments that “uphold transparency and sovereignty,” its unclear if his message has been heard. African leaders are particularly wary of a U.S. strategy on Africa that focuses more on Americas global power struggles with China and Russia than opportunities for African countries.

That, analysts say, only feeds Chinese dominance in the region.

“For a long time American policymakers have viewed Africa essentially as a problem to be solved, while Beijing perceived the continent as an area that abounds with opportunity,” said Murithi Mutiga, project director for the Horn of Africa at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

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