The United States is discussing military cuts in Africa, has tightened visa rules for Africans and President Donald Trump notoriously was quoted as disparaging the continent with a vulgar epithet.
But in his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa in his nearly two years in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will seek to lay out a positive vision for US cooperation with the continent where China has been increasingly active.
Pompeo on Saturday begins a trip to Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia, chosen for their leaders’ attachment to democratic values in a continent that has seen backsliding in recent years.
“These three countries are major contributors to regional stability. Also, the countries are benefiting from dynamic leadership,” a senior State Department official said on customary condition of anonymity.
The official said that a “major theme” will be the growing role of China, which has poured money into the continent as part of its global blitz of infrastructure spending.
China has invested especially heavily in Angola, which racked up an estimated $25 billion in debt to Beijing to be repaid with oil shipments.
The United States has been encouraging developing countries to exercise caution with China, saying that big-ticket projects can turn into debt traps that primarily benefit China, and has billed the US private sector as an alternative.
The US official said Pompeo would stress “economic growth, trade and investment” in a continent whose population is forecast to double by 2050.
“We want to absolutely empower that youth and make sure that they are a force for dynamic growth and economic empowerment and better governance in the world,” he said.