The US has unleashed a charm offensive in Africa under President Biden as it seeks to rival Russia and China.
This weekend, Vice President Kamala Harris begins a three-country tour of Africa as the United States seeks to pitch itself as a better partner than China, which has invested heavily in the continent over several decades.
Harris will be in Ghana from March 26 to 29, and then in Tanzania from March 29 to 31. Her final stop is Zambia, where she will be from March 31 to April 1. She will meet the three countries’ presidents and plans to announce public and private sector investments.
Harris will discuss China’s engagement in technology and economic issues in Africa that concern the US, as well as China’s involvement in debt restructuring, senior US officials said.
Zambia, the first African country to default on its sovereign debt during the COVID-19 pandemic, is working with its creditors, including China, to reach an agreement.
“We’re not asking our partners in Africa to choose,” an official told Reuters news agency, describing the competition with China, although he added that the US has “real concerns about some of China’s behaviour in Africa” and its “opaque” business dealings.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Harris would discuss the best ways for the international community to address debt challenges faced by Ghana and Zambia.
The White House hosted an Africa Leaders Summit in December, and President Joe Biden is expected to travel to the continent later this year.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Ethiopia and Niger this March, less than a year after visiting South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Morocco, Algeria and Rwanda.
The slew of recent engagements is a deviation from Washington’s stance under Biden’s predecessor, Republican President Donald Trump, who largely ignored the continent, and it comes as Russia deepens military engagements across Francophone Africa.
Harris, who visited her maternal grandfather as a little girl while he worked there, is “looking forward to returning to Lusaka, which is a part of her family’s story and a source of pride”, one of the officials said.
On her tour, Harris will also meet young leaders and business representatives and discuss topics such as climate change and food insecurity.