US Vice President Kamala Harris in Africa to boost ties

Week-long tour of the continent comes at a time when the US is seeking to counter the influence of Russia and China.

Vice President Kamala Harris has said that the United States will increase investment in Africa and help spur economic growth as she began a week-long tour of the continent aimed at countering the influence of rivals Russia and China.

China has invested heavily in Africa in recent decades, including in infrastructure and resource development, while Russian influence has also grown, including through the deployment of troops from the private military contractor Wagner Group in several countries.

“On this trip, I intend to do work that is focused on increasing investments here on the continent and facilitating economic growth and opportunity,” Harris said on Sunday shortly after touching down in Ghana, the first destination in a trip that will include visits to Tanzania and Zambia.

“We are looking forward to this trip as a further statement of the long and enduring very important relationship and friendship between the people of the United States and those who live on this continent,” Harris said.

The administration of President Joe Biden has sought to strengthen ties with Africa, in part to offer an alternative to rival powers, amid global competition over the continent’s future.

African nations are aware that there are ulterior motives for this push for a closer alliance, observers say.

“African nations are not naive … The US has a long history of meddling in African affairs, supporting dictators versus liberation movements, pushing hard for US multinationals’ access to African markets and resources, while leaving countries with nothing,” said Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, DC.

“So the US is saying, ‘That’s all in the past now, we are partners, we can all be successful’, whereas what we’re hearing from Africa is, ‘We don’t want to choose between China, Russia and the US, but we will do what we feel is in our best interest.'”

In December, ahead of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, Washington committed $55bn to the continent over the next three years.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $150m in new humanitarian aid for Africa’s Sahel region during a visit to Niger this month, which came less than a year after he visited South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Algeria and Rwanda.

This flurry of diplomacy is “about the geopolitical struggles that are going on, and the fear in Washington that it’s losing ground, specifically now in Africa where there is a scramble for resources, where there are rarer minerals to power the Green Revolution, and so on”, Rattansi said.

Harris will meet Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo this week and will visit a castle from which people were forcibly sent to the US during the slave trade era.

Harris will be in Ghana from March 26-29, then in Tanzania from March 29-31. Her final stop is Zambia, on March 31 and April 1. She will meet with the three countries’ presidents and plans to announce public- and private-sector investments.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies