War on terror, China’s clout top US diplomatic foray into Africa

Sunday March 11 2018

Rex Tillerson in Kenya

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and Foreign Affairs minister Monica Juma at State House, Nairobi on March 9, 2018. PHOTO | WILLIAM OERI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is making the obligatory “showing-the-flag” tour of Africa earlier than would have been expected.

After all, this is the Age of Trump, when African "shitholes" are thought not to matter. Ethiopia was Tillerson’s first stop followed by Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria.

Unlike the Chinese, who come laden with infrastructure goodies, Tillerson was not expected to announce big, new development programmes in Africa, a point confirmed by the State Department before his tour.

From early on, the Trump administration had indicated it would slash financial commitments to foreign countries. It also expressed reservations regarding entanglements of other kinds, be they military alliances or multi-national trade pacts. The exception that was clearly stated was the war on terror That is the primary reason that brings the Secretary of State to Africa.

The common denominator linking the five countries is that they are all on the frontline in the war against terrorism, specifically Al Shabaab in East Africa, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Islamist separatists in The Sahel. America is deeply involved in all three campaigns.

Boots on ground

Against Al Shabaab, it conducts numerous drone and manned airstrikes inside Somalia from its Lemonier base in Djibouti, and has some 500 personnel in Somalia itself.

The US used to have a counter-terrorism “training” base at Manda Bay in Lamu which it handed over to the Kenya Navy in 2006. Reports say there are still about “100 to 200” American special forces troops embedded there, though it is unclear whether they conduct clandestine operations inside Somalia.

In Ethiopia, the US will only admit to having radio intercept and relay s