JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – From the outset, Rex Tillerson’s first trip to Africa looked half-hearted and token, but with the hindsight knowledge that the U.S. Secretary of State was fired just two days in, his African hosts who must be wondering why they bothered.
Beyond $533 million in humanitarian aid and some pat remarks about security and not getting too cosy with China, Tillerson’s main aim appeared to be clearing up the mess left by President Donald Trump’s reported dismissal of some African nations as “shithole countries”. Trump later denied making the comment.
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But the revelation from a senior White House official that Trump told Tillerson he was out of a job just two days into the six-day jaunt leaves little room for doubt about the Trump White House’s attitude towards the continent.
Given its increasing reliance for aid and trade on China, its main commercial partner, and a recent diplomatic push led by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, the slight is likely to have real consequences for Washington’s status on the continent of a billion people.
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“This shows Trump’s disdain – a real own-goal, especially with Lavrov hot on his heels,” said Jackie Cilliers, head of the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies.
After a brief appearance at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia, where he spoke of the need for care when doing business with China, Tillerson flew to the Horn of Africa state of Djibouti, then Kenya, an important east African ally.
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His presence in Nairobi on Friday smoothed the way for a kiss-and-make-up meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
It was downhill from there. Tillerson’s focus switched to...
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