ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Ethiopia on Wednesday at the start of a weeklong trip that comes amid a sense on the continent that President Donald Trump’s administration is simply uninterested in Africa.
Tillerson will visit Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria, even as many top posts for the continent in the State Department remain unfilled and little has been said of the administration’s priorities for the continent.
Many African leaders were incensed by reports that Trump used a derogatory term to refer to African countries in a private White House meeting in January. Tillerson’s trip was announced in the wake of the uproar and was interpreted as an attempt to make amends.
Witney Schneidman of the Brookings Institution said that for Tillerson, the trip will probably be focused on hearing African leaders’ concerns.
“I think this trip seems to be pretty much a listening tour by Secretary Tillerson,” he said at a briefing ahead of the trip.
In a speech ahead of the tour, Tillerson, who visited the continent many times as chief executive of ExxonMobil, laid out the challenges Africa faces.
“By the year 2030, Africa will represent about one-quarter of the world’s workforce,” he said at George Mason University on Tuesday. “To understand where the world is going, one must understand that Africa is a significant part of the future.”
The United States remains the biggest contributor of humanitarian aid to Africa, and Tillerson announced during his speech a new package of $533 million to combat ongoing crises.
The aid, which includes tens of thousands of tons of food, is divided among Ethiopia, parts of which are ravaged by a severe drought; Somalia; Nigeria; South Sudan; and the countries of the Lake Chad basin, where millions are teetering on the edge of famine.