Yellen reasserts US commitment to Africa in Senegal visit

US Treasury secretary says Biden administration’s engagement with the continent is ‘not for show’ or the ‘short-term’.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen smiles after delivering a speech in Senegal's capital
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sought to contrast Washington's approach to Africa with that of Russia and China during a speech in Dakar, Senegal, on January 20, 2023 [Stefan Kleinowitz/AP Photo]

United States Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has reaffirmed her country’s commitment to deepening relations and trade with Africa during a visit to Senegal, amid competition across the continent from China and Russia.

“The United States is all in on Africa, and all in with Africa,” Yellen said on Friday morning at a business incubator in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, where she touted the fruits of a new “mutually beneficial” US economic strategy towards Africa.

“Our engagement is not transactional, it’s not for show, and it’s not for the short-term,” she said.

Yellen’s three-country tour of the region comes just weeks after US President Joe Biden hosted the leaders of dozens of African nations, as well as the African Union, for the second US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC.

The talks were a follow-up to the first such gathering hosted by former US President Barack Obama in 2014. They highlighted Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties with like-minded countries across the region.

The Biden administration unveiled a string of new economic investments and trade deals in Africa during the summit, and Biden personally expressed support for the African Union’s push for a permanent place at the Group of 20 (G20) forum of global economies.

China, which Washington has viewed as its main global competitor, has consistently outpaced the US in its investments in Africa in recent years. Russia has also been trying to rally support on the continent in response to pressure from the US and its allies over the war in Ukraine.

Last weekend, Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang ended a week-long tour of African nations, including Ethiopia, where he emphasised Beijing’s partnerships on security and economic development in the region.

Qin, whose trip included stops in Gabon, Angola, Benin and Egypt, also rejected the idea that China is competing in Africa with the US.

“What Africa needs is solidarity and cooperation, not bloc competition. No one has the right to force African countries to take sides,” the Chinese foreign minister said from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

In an implicit contrast with China, which takes a hands-off approach in countries where it invests, Yellen said on Friday that the US has taken a “different” tack, prioritising “transparency, good governance, accountability and environmental sustainability”.

“While our approach may be exacting, we believe it delivers lasting results,” said Yellen, who is expected to meet Senegal’s Minister of Finance Mamadou Moustapha Ba and President Macky Sall later in the day.

She is scheduled to travel to Zambia on Sunday, and later to South Africa.

During her speech in Dakar, the US Treasury secretary said that African governments need the “fiscal space” to be able to make “important” public investments.

“We believe that the international community, including China, needs to provide meaningful debt relief to help countries regain their footing,” she said.

Yellen also called for ending the Russian invasion of Ukraine, wading into politically murky territory as some African heads of state have not condemned the war due to relations they have with Moscow.

“Russia’s barbaric aggression against its neighbour is particularly being felt by Africa and its people,” Yellen said.

“Russia’s war and weaponisation of food has exacerbated food insecurity and caused untold suffering. And the global economic headwinds caused by the actions of a single man — President [Vladimir] Putin — is creating an unnecessary drag on Africa’s economy.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies