Washington’s top diplomat will travel to Africa next week for first time visits to Chad, Djibouti, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit from the 6th to the 13th of March will include visits with the leadership of the African Union in Addis Ababa, while focusing on ways to strengthen mutual interests with the region.

Tillerson’s visit will be the most high-profile since the administration of President Donald Trump took office more than a year ago, and after the president allegedly made derogatory remarks about Africa during private discussions on immigration at the White House in January.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert says: “Secretary Tillerson will meet up with leadership in each country, as well as the leadership of the African Union Commission, based in Ethiopia, to further our partnerships with the governments and the people of Africa. In particular, he plans to discuss ways that we can work with our partners to counter terrorism, advance peace and security, promote good governance, and spur mutually beneficial trade and investment.”

This is not the first trip to the region by a senior Trump administration official.

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia in October in 2017.

Haley says: “The United States regards itself as a partner to Africa, and looks to build on that relationship and strengthen it. And in a relationship of equals, responsibility falls on both parties to contribute to solutions. We applaud and encourage the increasing leadership the African Union and African Members States have exercised in contributing to peace operations and battling terrorist and insurgent groups.”

The Secretary of State also hosted a group of African Ministers in Washington in November 2017, where he outlined Washington’s policy goals in Africa.

Tillerson’s expected to encourage democratic transitions of power, address corrupt and weak governance in some African countries while seeking to strengthen partnerships in combating terrorism.

He says: “The United States also stands with you as we work to defeat the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism, which have taken so many innocent lives in Africa and across the world. We are particularly grateful for the work of African countries to expand multinational and regional cooperation to counter terrorism. The United States is committed to partnering with you to defeat ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups across your continent.”

It’s a visit that will be closely watched as the Trump administration tries to unshackle itself from the negative perceptions that surround US relations with Africa, particularly in light of the derogatory remarks attributed to the President and the now defunct travel ban that excluded the citizens of several African countries from travelling to the United States for several months in 2017.

And how Trump’s America First policy resonates in Africa will likely be one of Tillerson’s tough sells to the region.


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