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Amid US-China competition, Vice President Harris to embark on historic Africa trip

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Washington | March 26, 2023 12:07:31 AM IST
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, reported CNN.

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.

Administration officials previewing the vice president's trip said it's a "future-oriented" expedition to deepen relationships, crafted to recognize that the median age of citizens of the continent is 19 years old and its population is rapidly expanding, reported CNN.

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.

"The Vice President is visiting the three countries where the government (is) investing in democracies, specifically at a time where we know there is a global democratic recession," a senior administration official said on the call with reporters, reported CNN.

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, reported CNN.

"The United States believes Africa is critical to addressing global challenges. And we view her visit as another opportunity to consult and engage with partners on our shared objectives," a senior administration official said.

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, reported CNN.

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.

Harris will see one of the clearest examples of China's influence when she flies into Zambia. Air Force Two will land at the newly renovated Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, financed and designed with Chinese money.

The VP's motorcade will likely drive down roads also financed by Chinese loans and pass buildings with Chinese advertisements, reported CNN.

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, reported CNN.

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.

In addition to her meeting in Zambia with US and local business leaders, Harris will meet with tech entrepreneurs in Tanzania and women entrepreneurs in Ghana, reported CNN.

Harris' trip is the latest of several US officials, who plan on visiting or have visited, Africa. First Lady Jill Biden returned from her trip to Africa last month. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield also visited the continent earlier this year.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Ethiopia and Niger last week, and President Joe Biden is expected to visit the continent later this year. (ANI)

 
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