Amid strained US, China ties, Kamala Harris is set to embark on a historic Africa trip, becoming the first woman US Vice President to visit the continent, Harris’ historic trip will come nearly eight years after former President Barack Obama made his last trip to the region while in office. Obama’s first trip to the region was met with great fanfare, in large part due to his father’s Kenyan roots. “I’m going to Africa mainly to talk with African leaders about what we as the United States are prepared to do to have our role in investing in the future of that continent,” Harris said in a radio interview on Friday.
Harris hopes to build on themes of African innovation and technology, regional security, food security, women empowerment, climate and democracy, officials said, adding that she will bring with her continent-wide public and private sector investments, After departing Washington on Saturday, Harris will land in Accra on Sunday afternoon. From there begins a six-day march through three countries’ capital cities, where Harris will hold bilateral meetings with all three top leaders including Tanzania’s first female President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
In Ghana, Harris will deliver a high-profile speech to young people before visiting the famous Cape Coast Castle, a relic of the slave trade system in West Africa and beyond. And in Zambia, Harris will convene US and local business leaders to discuss digital and financial leadership,.
Notably, the Biden administration is accelerating its efforts to secure sustainable African partnerships to counter the weight of China and Russia’s rising influence and Harris will be the highest-ranking Biden official to visit Africa to confront that challenge. The issue of China and its influence will hang in the backdrop of nearly all of Harris’ closely watched engagements as officials seek to reassert US leadership in African nations to counter rival investments that have put the US on the back foot. In the wake of the US absence from the region, amplified by former President Donald Trump largely ignoring Africa and never visiting the continent, other nations made inroads. China has worked to grow trade relations with African nations and has developed major infrastructure projects there, some with high-interest loans. When Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited the rapidly expanding country in January, she called on China to restructure Zambia’s billions of dollars of debt. Yellen warned that the scale of debt threatens progress as China holds about USD 6 billion out of USD 17 billion of the country’s external debt.
A senior administration official said that Harris will have direct discussions about debt with officials during a slate of meetings in Zambia and other nations like Ghana, Meanwhile, experts say Harris will have to convey the US’ sincerity of its long-term commitment to the region and that her previous promises that the US would be a “better partner” for economic stability still ring true.