Mar. 27, 2023 (GIN) – The U.S. has been sending its best and its brightest to Africa with gifts and promises aimed at winning back the continent from its partnerships with China.
This week, Vice President Kamala Harris went off on a 9 day trip designed to discuss increased investment in three countries to help spur economic growth. Starting with Ghana, she will stop over in Tanzania before winding up in Zambia.
It is the fifth major trip by a senior administration official since the U.S.-Africa summit in Washington, DC, following trips by Secretary Janet Yellen, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the First Lady, and Secretary Antony Blinken, most recently.
This reality tour reflects a growing awareness of the need to deepen U.S. engagement with the continent when it faces growing competition from other global powers, especially China and Russia.
According to an official statement, the trip will build on December’s US-Africa summit in Washington where President Joe Biden said the U.S. was “all in on Africa’s future.”
But Ghana’s once-thriving economy is going through its most difficult financial crisis in decades which has presented President Nana Akufo-Addo with rare opposition from the youth. Once described as Africa’s shining star by the World Bank, today it is no longer the economic poster child of West Africa.
The country is seeking to restructure its debt amid surging inflation of over 50%. Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta has just been in Beijing leading negotiations with the Chinese government.
“So far, very positive and encouraging meetings in China,” the finance minister tweeted as he expressed optimism that it would secure external assurances “very soon”.
It is not clear what, if any help, Ms Harris can offer, but she will be under pressure to act like a willing partner in the wake of Mr Ofori-Atta’s China visit.
Her bilateral meeting with President Akufo-Addo will be followed by a visit to a local recording studio in Accra and a meeting with young people in the creative industry.
Next, after delivering a major speech to an audience of young people, the VP will visit the Cape Coast slave castle where she will give a major speech about the brutality of slavery and the African diaspora to an audience of young people.
On Wednesday, in Accra, the Vice President will meet with women entrepreneurs and discuss the economic empowerment of women. She will announce a series of continent-wide public and private sector investments to help close the digital gender divide and to empower women economically more broadly.
Ghana will be followed by Tanzania where she is scheduled to meet President Samia Suluhu Hassan and take part in a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy there followed by a session with entrepreneurs at a tech incubator and co-working space in Dar.
Finally, off to Zambia which finds itself in a similar position to Ghana. The copper-rich nation became the first African country to default on its debt when the Covid pandemic hit. Zambia is in prolonged discussions with China to restructure its debt and has also sought financial support from the IMF.
Lastly, in Lusaka, on Saturday, April 1st, the Vice President will convene business and philanthropic leaders, from both the continent and from the United States, to discuss digital and financial inclusion on the continent. They will discuss how to best partner together and build on the work of her trip and all the private sector announcements that she announced on the trip.
For decades, the perception of the U.S. has been that it treats African countries like charity cases, according to several regional experts. That was exacerbated during the Trump administration, which largely ignored the continent or reportedly disparaged it. Former President Donald Trump, in a 2018 meeting, referred to some African nations as “shithole countries.” At the same time, China enhanced its investments in Africa, helping to build roads and other infrastructure projects and creating firmer economic and political relations.
“Washington is playing catch up in Africa,” said Cameron Hudson, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Africa Program. “With all of the business investment that the Chinese have made comes a lot of leverage and political influence in those countries. It’s not just that they’re making money there. It’s that they now have skin in the game in Africa in ways that we don’t. And that gives them leverage that we don’t have.