‘US good, China bad’ is Pompeo’s message to Africa

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ended his three-country Africa tour on Wednesday with a thinly veiled swipe at China, as he talked up Washington’s ability to stimulate growth and entrepreneurship on the continent.

“Countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes with empty promises. They breed corruption, dependency,” Pompeo said in a speech to diplomats and business leaders at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“They run the risk that the prosperity and sovereignty and progress that Africa so needs and desperately wants won’t happen.”

Pompeo did not explicitly mention China — Africa’s largest trading partner — but analysts predicted before his trip that he would attempt to pitch the US as an alternative source of investment.

On Wednesday, Pompeo name-checked US companies operating in the countries on his Africa tour, the first by a US Cabinet-level official in 19 months: Bechtel in Senegal, Chevron in Angola and Coca-Cola in Ethiopia. He also hailed the free market, blasting “failed socialist experiments of years past” in countries such as Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

And he criticised a proposed constitutional amendment in South Africa that would allow land to be expropriated without compensation. The amendment would be “disastrous for that economy and most importantly for the South African people,” he said.

Pompeo left later for Riyadh.

His attempt to lay out a positive vision for US co-operation with Africa has been undermined by US President Donald Trump’s Africa policy so far, analysts say.

Critics are quick to cite Trump’s widely reported remarks in 2018, when he used a profanity to describe African nations whose citizens migrate to the US.

Washington is currently discussing military cuts in Africa, and the US recently announced tightened visa rules targeting Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, as well as Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea.

“Pompeo is unlikely to undo the damage from the Trump administration’s travel bans, the proposed budget cuts, or the president’s disparaging comments about the region,” said Judd Devermont, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington.

Countries such as Ethiopia have benefited from Chinese engagement, rendering Pompeo’s message less effective, said Abel Abate Demissie, an Ethiopian political analyst.

“It is undeniable that Chinese investment was quite crucial in keeping Ethiopia on track as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies for many years,” Abel said. He added that much Chinese money has gone towards projects such as roads and buildings, while US money is more often funnelled to “less visible” fields, such as education and health.

Pompeo insisted on Wednesday that Trump was eager to play a bigger role on the continent.

“If there’s one thing you should know about our president — my boss — you should know that he loves deals,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience. “He wants more to happen between the United States and nations all across Africa.” — AFP

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