Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at a joint press availability at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, Nigeria on March 12, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain] - Photo: 2018

Sacked Tillerson Cuts Short Long-Awaited Africa Visit

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) – An extended visit to Africa by the U.S. Secretary of State to mend fences after President’ Donald Trump’s crude description of African and the Caribbean countries was cut short March 13 by the dismissal of the embattled Secretary Rex Tillerson.

President Trump had announced such a visit in late January. In a letter to all African leaders, he reportedly described the purpose of the “extended” visit as reaffirming “the partnerships and values we share with the African Union, member states and citizens across the continent”.

Similar language was used when the State Department finally announced Tillerson’s March 6-13 trip. Spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tillerson would discuss ways “(the US) can work with our partners to counter terrorism, advance peace and security, promote good governance, and spur mutually beneficial trade and investment.”

It was the first tour of the continent by Tillerson as Secretary of State, and he was the first high-level U.S. representative to visit the continent in the aftermath of President Trump’s vulgar remarks.

CIA director Mike Pompeo has replaced Tillerson. The President – who has long clashed with Tillerson – felt it was important to make the change, as he prepares for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as upcoming trade negotiations, three White House officials said.

“(The President’s) statements shocked almost all Africans,” Chadian Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene Cherif said at a press conference seated next to Tillerson, but added, “We made efforts on either side to move ahead and look at the future with optimism.”

Quietly, however, Chadian President Idriss Déby made his anger known about his country being targeted in a Muslim travel ban despite close working relations between the two countries on anti-terrorism.

Other planned activities that were called off included the laying of a wreath at the memorial to victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and a working luncheon with Kenyan leaders.

A full day of meetings in Nigeria was reduced to a quick chat with President Muhammadu Buhari and his foreign minister before Tillerson hopping a flight home.

Among the responses to the State Department’s visit was a published piece by visiting professor of international relations at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, Joseph J. Stremlau, titled ‘Three Reasons why Africa should treat the visit with scepticism’.

The Secretary was scheduled to visit just five of all 55 countries on the African continent: Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria – the so-called “arc of instability,” noted Stremlau.

“Evidently, counter terrorism is America’s main Africa concern,” he wrote. “If Trump and Tillerson were seriously interested in issues of trade, public health, and good governance, he would have at least included democratic South Africa on his agenda . . . Instead, Tillerson has prioritized repressive governments and ones under states of emergency.”

Stremlau’s second reason for scepticism is that the U.S. hasn’t shown much appetite for diplomatic engagement with Africa since Trump became president.

By contrast, the U.S. military is already deeply engaged in the struggle against counter terrorism.

“Neither Trump or Tillerson has announced an overarching Africa policy. No assistant secretary for Africa has been named, important embassies, including in South Africa, lack ambassadors. This is in sharp contrast to the US’s active engagement on the military front,” he pointed out.

“Finally,” said Stremlau, “Tillerson has no credibility. He has been publicly criticized and even mocked by his commander-in-chief. Rumours persist that he will resign or be fired. And any claims that the government he represents means what it says is undermined by Trump’s own false or misleading statements.”

Stremlau congratulated African leaders for setting a dignified precedent when Trump compared African countries to dirty toilets.

Africans should also remind Tillerson of their appreciation of China’s increasing importance as their leading development partner, Stremlau urged.

He added: “It’s worth recalling that since the 1990s, Congress has consistently supported expanding economic and political partnerships with Africa.

“The reason for this is that congressmen have been pressed to do so by African-Americans as well as other sympathetic elements in America’s diverse civil society, business, and philanthropic sectors.

“Networks such as these, as well as close ties at state and local government level that stretch throughout Africa may indeed be more important in the long run.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 March 2018]

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at a joint press availability at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, Nigeria on March 12, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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