Kamala Harris’ trip aims to deepen American ties in Africa
WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris will attempt to deepen and reframe U.S. relations in Africa during a week-long trip that is the latest and highest-profile of the Biden administration’s outreach as it strives to counter the growing influence of China.
Harris, who is traveling with her husband, Doug Emhoff, plans to visit Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, focusing on economic development, climate change, food security and growing youth populations. She is due to arrive in Ghana’s capital, Accra, on Sunday.
“For too long, the American foreign policy establishment has treated Africa as a kind of extra credit project and not part of the core agenda,” said Michelle Gavin, an expected Africa at the Council on Foreign Relations. and former US Ambassador to Botswana. “I see a big push to change that way of thinking now. But it takes time.
In Africa, Harris will be watched closely as the first person of color and first woman to serve as vice president of the United States. Her mother was born in India and her father was born in Jamaica; Harris grew up in California.
“Everyone is excited about Kamala Harris,” said Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, Nigeria. “You can be anything you can think of – that’s what she means to many of us.”
A centerpiece of Harris’ trip will be a speech in Accra and a visit to Cape Coast Castle, where enslaved Africans were once loaded onto ships bound for America. Harris also plans to meet with the leaders of each country she visits and lay a wreath to commemorate the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania.
Its route also includes several less traditional stops intended to highlight the dynamic future of a continent where the median age is just 19.
Harris plans to visit a recording studio and meet women entrepreneurs in Accra and stop at a tech incubator in Dar es Salaam. In Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, Harris is expected to meet with business leaders and philanthropists to discuss expanding access to digital and financial systems.
The hope, administration officials said, is to portray Africa as a place for investment, not just aid programs, a theme Harris emphasized in December at a U.S. summit -African in Washington.
“I am optimistic about what lies ahead for Africa and, by extension, the world thanks to you – thanks to your energy, your ambition and your ability to turn seemingly intractable problems into opportunities,” she said. “Put simply: your ability to see what can be, unhindered by what has been.”
The trip includes three nights in Ghana, two nights in Tanzania and one in Zambia, before Harris returns to Washington on April 2.
“This is a trip to support reformers,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, co-director of the Africa Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution. “All three countries have gone through significant challenges and significant changes.”
Ghana is facing a debt crisis and high inflation, resulting in an economy that was once among the strongest in the region. He is also wary of the instability of Islamist militants and Russian mercenaries operating in countries north of Ghana.
Tanzania has its first female president and she has lifted a ban on opposition parties and gatherings. Zambia has made its own changes, such as decriminalizing defamation of the president. However, democratic progress is seen as fragile in both places.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and First Lady Jill Biden have visited Africa before on their own trips. President Joe Biden is expected to leave later this year.
Harris will return to Zambia for the first time since coming as a young girl when her maternal grandfather worked there. He was an Indian official who helped resettle refugees after Zambia gained independence from Britain.
Harris writes in his book that “Grandpa was one of my favorite people in the world and one of the earliest and most enduring influences in my life.”
The United States-Africa summit held in December was the only one since 2014 hosted by President Barack Obama. Although Washington’s approach to Africa has had some historic success – for example, President George W. Bush’s initiative to fight HIV/AIDS has saved millions of lives – it there have also been periods of neglect.
“There is enormous doubt and skepticism about American resistance,” said Daniel Russel, a former State Department official who now works at the Asia Society Policy Institute. “They know very well the American promises that are running out and don’t amount to much.”
This is a stark contrast to China, which has also carried out large-scale infrastructure projects there and expanded its telecommunications operations.
John Kirby, White House national security spokesman, said last week that African leaders are “beginning to realize that China is not really their friend.”
“China’s interests in the region are purely selfish, unlike those of the United States,” he said. “We are really committed to trying to help our African friends through a range of challenges.”
Senior administration officials have been careful not to portray Harris’ trip as another move in a geopolitical rivalry, an approach that could alienate African leaders who are reluctant to take sides between the world’s superpowers.
Now they are waiting to see what Harris and USA can deliver next week.
“She has a very good reputation in Africa, because of her profile,” said Rama Yade, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. “But beyond that, very quickly, public opinion in the three countries will have expectations.”