'Supercharged' diplomacy as US VP Kamala Harris plans trip to Africa

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US Vice President Kamala Harris.
US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • US Vice President Kamala Harris will become the 18th US official to visit Africa since January.
  • US envoys have been to 11 African countries this year and President Joe Biden is expected to visit later this year.
  • The Russia-Africa Summit in July will be Moscow's chance to show who in Africa supports Putin.

United States Vice President Kamala Harris will be the 18th and most senior American official to visit Africa this year in late March.

The tour to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia was scheduled for 25 March to 3 April.

This visit will be the most high-profile as the US and Russia go pound-for-pound countering each other in Africa, as the war in Ukraine enters its second year.

Harris could set the stage for the eventual promised arrival of President Joe Biden, a vow he made at the US Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC in December.

So far, first lady Jill Biden's visits to Namibia and Kenya are regarded as the most high profile followed by that of US Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen who was in Senegal, South Africa, and Zambia last month.

Edward Burrier, a senior advisor for private sector engagement at the US Institute of Peace, called the planned visits by American envoys to Africa "supercharged" because they were moving "beyond the typical secretary of state visits".

Since January, by counting 17 including the first lady, the envoys have been to 11 African countries.

South Africa features more in their travel itinerary because of its importance as a gateway into Africa for US diplomacy.

Burrier in his analysis pointed out that visits to Africa show that the continent "will shape the future of the global economy".

Although Africa has some of the world's fastest-growing economies, democratic advancements sometimes stall because of insurgencies, corruption, and weak governance.

This issue is at the centre of US policy in Africa.

But it's not easy, as the US faces traditional rivals China and lately Russia, which has managed to strengthen its relations that go as far back as the decolonisation of Africa in the periods between the 1960s and 80s.

Any form of collaboration with Russia by African nations is seen by the US as a betrayal.

There's not much travelling from Russian envoys with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the only high-level Putin diplomat to come to Africa.

Still, Russia covers considerable ground in this dual of ideologies and policies.

Ann Garrison, from The Black Agenda Report, argued that "Africa doesn’t like to be pushed around".  

"African nations' refusal to reinforce US foreign policy in the UN General Assembly is a case in point," she said. 

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Fifteen African countries were among 32 UN member states that abstained from voting on a General Assembly resolution calling for Russia to pull out its troops from Ukraine last month. 

Mali and Eritrea are the two African countries out of seven that voted in support of Russia from a continent contributing 54 members in the 193-member bloc.

Mali and Eritrea were not at the US Africa Leaders Summit. For Mali, it was because of its suspension from the AU for "unconstitutional change of governance" while Eritrea does not have diplomatic ties with the US.

Since then, Mali has become closer to Russia and pushed France back. The International Crisis Group (ICG) sees this decision by Mali as "avoiding the trap of isolation" by choosing Russia as its main military ally.

The Russia-Africa Leaders Summit at St Petersburg in July will provide an insight into how much Moscow has endeared itself with Africa.

Already, invites are being dispatched to African countries.

Media reports in East Africa say South Sudan, a country that was against Russia's invasion of Ukraine is one of the first to get its invite to the summit.

In his address to the AU in February, President Vladimir Putin vowed that this year's Russia-African Summit would allow setting "new goals for expanding cooperation between the Russian Federation and its African partners in a wide range of areas, such as addressing topical issues on the regional and international agenda",

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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