Thu, Mar 08, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Tillerson to focus on security on his first visit to Africa

CONCESSIONARY LOANS:Diplomats are becoming concerned about the high levels of Chinese debt some African nations are incurring, a US official said

Reuters, NAIROBI

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday flew to Ethiopia at the start of his first diplomatic trip to Africa, seeking to bolster security alliances on a continent increasingly turning to China for aid and trade.

He was due to visit the African Union, where many officials are still smarting from US President Donald Trump’s reported dismissal of member states as “shithole” nations in January.

Trump later denied making the comment.

US officials did not release a detailed schedule, but said Tillerson would focus on discussing ways of fighting terrorism and promoting stability, trade and investment on the week-long tour.

Tillerson was due to visit the east African powerhouses of Ethiopia, the home of the African Union, and Kenya — both key US allies in the fight against al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.

He was also scheduled to visit tiny Djibouti, host to sprawling US, French and Chinese military bases.

In West Africa, Tillerson is due to visit Chad and Nigeria, both major oil producers struggling to contain the Boko Haram insurgency.

Analysts say Trump has focused mainly on security concerns in Africa at a time when China, Turkey and other nations are ramping up diplomatic and business links.

Trump has authorized the use of more aggressive US military operations in Somalia and the deaths of four US troops in Niger last year shone a spotlight on increasing US counterterrorism engagement in West Africa.

At the same time, key ambassadorships in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other nations remain unfilled, along with the continent’s top diplomatic position, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Trump has said he wants to cut the budgets for foreign aid and the US Department of State by a third.

“Africa is ready and open for business, and the Chinese have understood it and have been more proactive and aggressive in a way that it’s benefiting them,” said Brahima Coulibaly, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Don Yamamoto on Monday told journalists that US diplomats were becoming concerned about the high levels of Chinese debt some African nations were incurring.

“The United States was concerned that some Chinese loans were pushing countries back into heavy debt not long after they received debt relief from international financial institutions,” Yamamoto said. “We’re seeing countries at 50 percent, 100 percent, and in one case 200 percent, of GDP debt based on concessionary loans from China.”

China surpassed the US to become Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009.

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