By Owei Lakemfa
REX Wayne Tillerson visited Africa this week; it was not just a jinxed visit, but also his first and last as the American Secretary of State. He had proclaimed: “The purpose of my trip is to listen to what the priorities of the countries here on the continent are and see where there is good alignment.” In reality, he did most of the talking, and his visit had a hidden agenda.
Five countries were on his itinerary; Kenya, Chad, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The first three, are plagued by terrorist attacks; Kenya by the Somali al-Shabab group, Nigeria and Chad by the Boko Haram group. Ethiopia is the most active military force engaging the al-Shabab on Somali soil while tiny Djibouti with its one million populace is host to the largest, permanent American Base in Africa, the Camp Lemonnier which houses 4,000 personnel.
These may be some of the reasons the five were chosen of the 55 countries in Africa. However, Tillerson’s consistent attacks on China and his continuous warning of African countries against loans and infrastructural aid from that country, exposed the fact that the United States does not want African countries to be close to the Chinese. It reminds me of the 1975 warnings by one of Tillerson’s predecessors, Henry Kissinger that African countries must not recognise the MPLA Government in Angola.
Tillerson after initially warning African countries to stay clear of Chinese aid, said at the beginning of his tour: “We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese investment dollars out of Africa. They are badly needed. However, we think it’s important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those investments.”
Four days later, after a closed door meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, he repeated the same anti-Chinese message labelling Chinese aid as anti-African designed to erode the sovereignty of African countries. Although the visit was supposed to focus on trade, counter-terrorism, security and development, America’s obsession was Chinese- bashing.
Africa has no basis to fight China, a country which like 53 African countries, was a victim of vicious Western colonialism. China unlike Europe and America, never set out to colonise other countries. Secondly, China, unlike Europe and America, did not develop by looting the resources of Africa and turning Black people into slaves either in the continent or the continents of Europe, North and South America and the Caribbean. Thirdly, it is not out of place for China to have strategic interests in Africa; it is for African countries to ensure that the interests of their peoples are paramount in their dealings with other peoples, be they American, Chinese or Caucasian. Fourthly, it is a known fact that even when Americans give aid, they ensure that a lot of the money is spent in America by way of purchasing American equipment and vehicles, or paying their citizens who are styled “experts.” Fifthly, it is distasteful for a visitor to our homestead to warn us not to entertain another visitor. A sixth point is that Tillerson’s warnings give the impression that Africans are children who cannot think for themselves, and have to be told what to do, what is in their interest and what company to keep.
At the beginning of his African tour on Thursday, March 8, he visited the headquarters of the African Union, AU, in Addis Ababa which is a $200 million gift by the Chinese to the African people. There he repeated his sing-song against China, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the AU Commission had responded to the American insult: “I think Africans are mature enough to engage in partnerships of their own volition.”
Ethiopia was not responsive to America’s anti-Chinese tirade. The Chinese had built neigbourhoods in that country free apart from their constructing a $475 million modern railway. Also, Chinese investments in Ethiopia in recent years, are $3.5 billion more than those of America.
Tillerson’s next stop was in Djibouti where the Chinese last August, built its first foreign military base in the world. Apart from sharing the soil of Djibouti with the Chinese military, the Americans are jittery that China had built the port with an outstanding $1.2 billion loan repayable by Djibouti. This they fear, may give the Chinese an advantage. Let me state clearly, that it is not in Africa’s interest for any inch of our soil to be given out to foreign armed forces as base be they American, Chinese or European.
On Saturday March 10, Tillerson was in Kenya where the Chinese had completed another railway at the cost of $3.8 billion. By this time, he had received a message that his Principal, President Donald Trump had changed his mind about not holding talks with North Korea. On September 30, 2017, Tillerson had contradicted Trump’s position, by saying, America was not opposed to dialogue with North Korea. The next day, Trump twitted: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man (President Kim Jong-un of North Korea). Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
Then suddenly in the midst of his African tour, Tillerson is told there was going to be dialogue. He cancelled his programmes in Kenya that Saturday. His office issued a statement: “The Secretary is not feeling well after a long couple days working on major issues back home such as North Korea and has cancelled his events for the day.” The next day, he continued his visit, and on Monday, March 12, he was in Chad, and then, Nigeria where he was scheduled for a two-day visit. But pronto, Tillerson was gone! Undersecretary of State, Steve Goldstein told the media: “Due to demands in the Secretary’s schedule, he is returning to the US one day early, after concluding official meetings in Chad and Nigeria.”
It is unclear what happened. But what we now know is that while Tillerson was still trying to get home, Trump released a twitter message: “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”
Without warning, Tillerson had lost his coveted job. He did not even have the opportunity to report back on his African tour. To cap it all, Trump told the media, he had raised the issue of his replacement with Tillerson to which Goldstein denied: “(Tillerson) had every intention of staying… The Secretary did not speak to the President and is unaware of the “reason” for his sack. Whatever the case, Tillerson is gone!