President Donald Trump has his eyes set on the African diaspora after recalling former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – from his administration’s first top diplomatic tour of Africa – to fire him.
A statement by the State Department issued last week (March 19) disclosed that Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, will travel to Washington and Minnesota from March 19–23 to meet with various members of the African diaspora.
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He will visit the African Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest to host meetings with African business and immigrant communities, as well as tour the Alaffia headquarters to learn more about products made from fair trade shea butter from Togo.
The administration understands the important role of the African diaspora in the U.S.’s economy, citing, “Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto will discuss the impact of these diaspora communities and their important contributions to the U.S. economy, as well as their work and investments in their countries of origin on the African continent. Throughout these meetings, Ambassador Yamamoto will reiterate continued U.S. support for countering terrorism, advancing peace and security, promoting good governance, and spurring mutually beneficial trade and investment in Africa”.
But, President Trump’s African diaspora strategy and resulting engagement come amidst rising speculation that his administration does not care about Africa. Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson two days into his first trip to Africa, one that was expected to last six days.
Tillerson’s trip appeared to be an attempt at clearing up the mess left by President Trump’s reported dismissal of some African nations as “shithole countries”, a statement President Trump has denied. Rather, the trip seemed half-baked and inconsistent. Tillerson’s’ $533 million humanitarian aid parcel seemed especially contradictory given a larger ‘anti-foreign aid to Africa’ agenda the President had been pursuing since he landed in office.
As one Kenyan writer and political analyst put it to Reuters, “It’d be better for Africa if the Trump administration just ignored us because of the chaos and dysfunction within the administration.”
“It’s interesting and disturbing to see the administration flounder so much and not really have a coherent response to any major challenges on the continent and elsewhere,” he added.
President Trump is also wary of China’s growing presence and influence on the continent as an aid and trade partner, a fear which manifested in Tillerson’s punches at China during his trip to the continent.
Pat Utomi, professor of political economy at Lagos Business School told Reuters, “American foreign policy has always treated Africa as a leftover, which is why it’s not a huge shock that Tillerson was in Africa while they fired him.”
“It doesn’t augur well for the long-term message of America to Africa, especially with the message he sounded, which was ‘beware of China’. This means that the warning he was giving was of no consequence,” he explained.
Is the Administration’s turn to the African diaspora a part of a longer-term strategy to make up with Africa and its people, or just a fluke in a series of abandoned Africa related projects?