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What Rex Tillerson’s sack means for U.S African policy

Ore-Oluwa Runsewe
Friday March 16, 2018

As former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson concluded his trip to Africa with a visit to Aso Rock to see Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, many thought it ironically meant the opening of a new page for Trump’s relationship with Africa since his administration began. However, it was reported by Tuesday, 13th of March that Tillerson had been dismissed by President Donald Trump, without giving him a chance to debrief the president of whatever he achieved in Africa, leaving even more confusion around Trump’s African policy.

Tillerson’s visit was the first time any high ranking member of Trump’s cabinet stepped foot on the continent since his inauguration in 2017. In that time, members of his cabinet have been to Asia, the Middle East, South America, Europe. The closest Trump came to Africa was when he met with some of its leaders at the UN summit in September 2017. His speech was neither enthusiastic nor motivational, it was strictly business.

“Africa has tremendous business potential, I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money….It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.” he said while addressing the presidents and the representatives of Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and South Africa.

While his Foreign policies regarding Africa have been vague, his “America first” policies have had adverse effects on the continent.

First, there was the funding cut Trump issued to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a UN agency that deals with family planning and reproductive health in more than 150 countries around the world. The US has been a major contributor to UNFPA for many years, and in 2015 donated about $75 million to the organization. UNFPA has provided reproductive health services to more than 12.5 million women around the world; including reproductive health education and contraceptives.

The organisation is the world’s largest provider of contraceptives, and its work in African countries like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Chad, Guinea, Liberia etc. has helped reduce maternal deaths, child deaths, unsafe abortions. However, these efforts may not achieve desired results due to the cut from Trump.

Then Trump issued a Muslim travel ban that prevented citizens of some Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. One of these countries, Chad, received Tillerson on his trip to Africa. Its president and Foreign minister had to listen to flimsy explanations for why Chad was included as one of the countries on the travel ban, regardless of the fact that Chad is a key US ally in fighting terrorism in West Africa.

After Trump called African countries ‘shithole countries’ in January, there was immediate backlash around the world over the racist undertones of his words. And when Tillerson’s visit to Africa was announced last week, many analysts thought it would be an opportunity for Trump to show that Africa mattered in its foreign policy plans.

Tillerson, a former EXXON-Mobil boss, had gathered frequent flier miles as the oil company’s global head for 11 years before his stint as US Secretary of State. His globalist background is at contrast with Trump’s ‘America first’ course he was taking the U.S. on. Tillerson’s much touted replacement Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo is closer to Trump’s agenda than Tillerson, with his CIA background. This was the reason Trump for why he sacked the former oil boss. Can the new guy sit down with African leaders to discuss Trade and Governance? I doubt it.

Tillerson’s promises to African leaders, including offering training, equipment and intelligence to the Nigerian government to help in releasing the missing Dapchi and Chibok girls, and pledging more than $533 million in humanitarian aid for victims of conflicts and drought in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and the West and Central African countries bordering Lake Chad” on behalf of the American government all seem moot now.

American foreign policy has always been based on American interests abroad, many times for good reasons, but now, it is apparent the US under Trump doesn’t really care for Africa, or anybody actually. Tillerson was sacked two days into his trip to Africa; the leaders would probably regret giving Tillerson the reception he received. Here we come, China or here you come, whatever.


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