LUANDA, Angola—The Trump administration's newly implemented restrictions on travel to the United States from key African countries will not interfere with efforts by top U.S. officials to boost America's standing in the region, particularly on security and trade fronts, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
During a meeting with Manuel Augusto, Angola's minister of external relations, America's chief diplomat emphasized his administration's commitment to bolstering central Africa's security amid growing concerns that the Trump administration's travel restrictions could harm relations with the continent.
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The new travel guidelines will tightly restrict visas for those from Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, and Eritrea—all countries where terrorism and health issues remain a concern for the administration. The restrictions have angered these governments and sparked much conversation about whether the Trump administration is sending a message of disdain for the region.
"There is nothing that conflicts between America's need to be sure that the people that are coming in and out of the United States—we know who they are, we know where they're traveling—every nation has a sovereign obligation to ensure that they do that," Pompeo told reporters traveling with him as he makes his way through several key African countries, including Senegal, Angola, and Ethiopia.
"That in no way conflicts with America's deep desire to get—increase our contacts, partnerships here with Angola and all throughout Africa," Pompeo said. "In fact, you can see it, the data set's very clear. You can see increased investment. You can see it in ways that are important to liberate the people of this region, to liberate Angola, that we—you can see that our investments are transparent, they're clean."
Pompeo is in Africa amidst a mounting dispute over the Trump administration's Africa policy. The administration has faced bipartisan backlash in Congress against pulling all U.S. troops out of Africa's Sahel region, which includes parts of Senegal and Eritrea. U.S. presence in that region includes about 1,000 troops who aid in local troop training and intelligence sharing.
Pompeo worked to reassure African allies that the United States "will get it right" when it comes to troop deployments and that readjustments in the policy are not a sign the administration is pulling resources at a time when terrorism looms large across the continent.
U.S. officials said Pompeo specifically chose these African nations to visit because they symbolize opportunity—both private and public—for investment and development. America under the Trump administration is not pulling back from the world stage, despite facing this criticism, and is focused on playing a central role in helping the developing world adopt Western values, according to sources familiar with Pompeo's thinking.
In Angola, Pompeo again reiterated his commitment to partnering with the country on the security front, an issue that has been raised repeatedly by senior African officials who have met with the secretary. They are seeking to extract promises from Pompeo that the Trump administration will not turn its back on the developing world at a key time in its march toward increased freedom and democracy.
"The United States is eager to partner more on security as well," Pompeo said. "We welcomed Angola's first-ever deployment of peacekeepers to help stabilize Lesotho in 2017. Security for Angola goes hand in hand with allowing for civil society to flourish—journalists, businesspeople, churches—any number of organizations should be able to work, to grow, and to be heard without fear."
The new government's actions to reform Angolan civil society "are something you should be proud of," Pompeo said to Augusto. "What's been done in the last four years gives the United States great relief to continue to expand our ties, and they give the Angolan people a reason for optimism. They should continue, and I look forward to the United States being a partner."
Angola has emerged as a willing and eager partner since its new government has taken steps to modernize the country and make it more Western-oriented. This, too, has been a constant theme throughout Pompeo's trip through the region. He is trying to make it clear that America is still leading the global charge to bring Western values to countries formerly hostile to this world view.
American investment also has featured prominently in Pompeo's conversations with African leaders. Officials from Dakar, Senegal, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, all made clear in public settings that they want America's private sector to aid in their development.
Pompeo's presence in Luanda is "good for the Angolan Government because we want to believe that his presence is also sign of the support of the President Donald Trump administration, support to the program of the government of President Joao Lourenco, and above all, the reforms that President Joao Lourenco has been making in the country," Augusto told reporters after his private meeting with Pompeo.
Pompeo, too, emphasized that America wants "Angola's future to be sovereign, prosperous, and peaceful. We talked first about moving beyond the corruption that's stunted this nation's vast potential for far too long."
American private businesses can serve as a counter to China's massive investment in Africa and the surrounding developing world. The Trump administration is making moves to play a central role in countering China's massive and years-long investment in the region, according to U.S. officials.
"We don't impose debt burdens that nations can't resolve," Pompeo said in response to questions about China's influence in the region. "You suggested somehow this was different than the Chinese model. I'll leave others to make that analysis, but I can tell you how America operates. When we come, we hire Angolans. When we come to Angola, we show up with money that will benefit the Angolan people. Our companies will do well too. These are private sector companies that come—we do high-quality work. It's transparent; it benefits the people of that country."
"Not every nation that comes here to invest does that," he said. "There's no political objective. We're trying to do good things for our company and good things for the people of Angola."
These issues are likely to be discussed again as Pompeo makes his way Tuesday to Addis Ababa for a new round of talks and meetings.