National Security

In Africa, Pompeo Touts Billions of Dollars in Trade to Help ‘Westernize’ Continent

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo / Getty Images

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—As the Trump administration works to combat China's growing influence across Africa, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told business leaders that President Donald Trump was willing to commit billions in U.S. trade and aid dollars to further African development.

Speaking Wednesday in Ethiopia before the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Pompeo touted the influx of billions of dollars in aid from the United States to Africa in what many see as a bid to erode China's dominance across the region.

However, Pompeo's tour across three developing African countries—Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia—has not been without contention. As these countries struggle to shake off years of authoritarian rule, terrorism and violence have stymied progress and threaten to erode hard-fought gains in government and economic reform initiatives.

Mounting concerns across the continent that the United States will soon pull its forces from critical battles against terrorists and other militant groups also have complicated Pompeo's high-level meetings in the region. With the Trump administration seeking to scale back its military footprint across the globe, African leaders worry they will lose a key Western ally.

Pompeo addressed both concerns as he met with high-ranking officials from local governments and the African Union, an alliance of 55 African nations. The secretary promised continued security assistance and private partnerships with U.S. corporations across various sectors.

Speaking to young business leaders at UNECA, Pompeo reminded the crowd that his boss loves a good business deal.

"The Trump administration wants these trade ties to continue, and expand. If there's one thing you should know about our president—my boss—you should know he loves deals," Pompeo said. "He wants more to happen between the U.S. and the nations of Africa. That's why the United States launched our new Development Finance Corporation last month. Our goal is to catalyze private-sector investment in developing countries, focusing heavily on priority areas like energy, agriculture, and infrastructure. Much of its $60 billion finance capacity will help Africa."

For Pompeo and the State Department, the pathway to success in Africa is investment and trade—not necessarily U.S. aid dollars.

"Effective foreign aid can help to alleviate the problem, but can't solve it," Pompeo said. "Government spending won't either. Centralized planning hasn't worked—look at the failed socialist experiments of years past in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and right here in Ethiopia. Even now, South Africa is debating an amendment to permit the expropriation of private property without compensation. That would be disastrous for that economy and the South African people. Socialist schemes haven't economically liberated this continent's poorest."

Pompeo added that nationwide government reforms, including moving to a more Western model of capitalism, can push Africa into greater prosperity—and potentially help the United States, in turn, reduce China's financial grip on the continent.

"It's not easy," Pompeo said. "We recognize that. But it is moral. It is right. There is nothing more noble than allowing our people to have the dignity of work. And we believe in you and are with you every step of the way. With the right policies and leadership, we believe true economic liberation can happen everywhere. If you focus on the basics—transparency and good governance among them—American businesses will come."

In Ethiopia, as with the other African nations he visited, Pompeo focused on balancing U.S. security assistance and trade.

Ethiopia and the United States exchanged some $1.8 billion in trade in 2018. That figure is expected to increase, according to U.S. officials. The United States also provided more than $117 million in the last two years to promote economic opportunities in Ethiopia while bolstering American investment.

Trade and investment, however, cannot increase if security concerns continue to dominate the conversation, the State Department said.

To that end, the United States has provided "material, logistics, and training support to Ethiopia as the world's largest troop contributor to peacekeeping forces," according to the State Department.

"Peace in Africa will be won by Africans," Pompeo said on Tuesday during a meeting with Ethiopian foreign minister Gedu Andargachew.

Despite fears the United States is withdrawing forces from Africa, Pompeo reassured leaders that the contested Defense Department review of American force levels in the region will "get it right."

"That review is under way. We'll make sure we get it right. If we have forces in the wrong place, we're going to fix that," Pompeo said, adding that the United States will "still deliver on peace and security in a way that is important for the region."