Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Africa this weekend as the first U.S. cabinet official to visit in more than 18 months.
Pompeo is visiting Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia as the Trump administration tries to counter the growing interest of China, Russia and other global powers in Africa and its booming young population of more than 1.2 billion.
His visit comes as the U.S. military considers reducing its presence in West Africa’s Sahel region while extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group expand their reach, killings hundreds of civilians. Pompeo last year said the Sahel should be the next focus of the global coalition against IS outside the group’s core region.
Also raising concerns is the Trump administration’s announcement last month that it will no longer be issuing immigrant visas to citizens of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with an estimated 200 million people and a large, often high-achieving diaspora. New visa restrictions also were imposed on Eritrea, Tanzania and Sudan.
“This is the challenge Pompeo’s facing in Africa, explaining the contradictory messages out of Washington,” Mike O’Hanlon, director of the Brookings Africa Security Initiative, said in a briefing this week.
Some African leaders have bristled at what they perceive as the Trump administration’s “us or them” narrative around China and Russia, especially after President Donald Trump made derogatory comments about Africa. Other leaders have said competition is welcome if it brings more investment to the continent.
O’Hanlon said most African leaders are pragmatic and “very keen to work with the U.S. and if offered a White House meeting, they would take it.”
Trump has yet to visit Africa, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was his last cabinet official to do so in 2018.