Kamala Harris in Africa amid China’s growing influence on continent

Harris Ghana
Vice President Kamala Harris addresses a news conference following her meetings with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra, Ghana, on Monday, March 27, 2023. Harris is on a seven-day African visit that will also take her to Tanzania and Zambia. Misper Apawu/AP

Kamala Harris in Africa amid China’s growing influence on continent

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Vice President Kamala Harris touched down in Ghana on Sunday as she embarks on a historic weeklong trip to encourage African leaders to reject China’s outreach.

Harris is the fifth top Biden administration official to visit Africa this year, and President Joe Biden is expected to make a visit later this year. All these trips come amid concern that China has secured an economic foothold in the region in place of the United States. The U.S. itself is also focused on helping the nations instead of simply urging them to not work with Beijing.

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“I’m going to Africa mainly to talk with African leaders about what we as the United States are prepared to do to have our role in investing in the future of that continent,” Harris said in a radio interview on Friday.

The president transmitted his 10-year plan for implementing U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability with West African countries, including Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo, on Friday. Harris announced on Monday that the administration intends to invest more than $100 million to support conflict prevention and stabilizing efforts.

“The vice president is visiting the three countries where the government [is] investing in democracies, specifically at a time where we know there is global democratic recession,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters, according to CNN. “The United States believes Africa is critical to addressing global challenges, and we view her visit [as] another opportunity to consult and engage with partners on our shared objectives.”

Harris will also visit Zambia and Tanzania during her weeklong trip.

A senior administration official said the U.S. has made clear that the “relationship with Africa cannot and should not and will not be defined by competition with China,” adding, “We’re not asking our partners to choose.”

The vice president will get to witness China’s influence in Zambia personally, as she will land at the newly renovated Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Kusaka, which was financed and designed with Chinese money.

Harris also heads to Africa with concerns about her political future at home. She has come under fire for her handling of issues in her portfolio, such as immigration and the border. Many of her speeches go viral, with people making fun of her delivery. Her poll numbers don’t put her in a good position to succeed Biden, either in 2024 or beyond.

She has frequently been deployed overseas, however. As the first black vice president, Harris could play a constructive role in bringing about closer relations with African leaders.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited the country in January and called on Beijing to restructure Zambia’s billions of dollars of debt, while National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby put it more bluntly, “They get these loans — high interest, can’t pay them. China says, ‘Hey, bill is coming due. So, I guess I’m going to take this and this and this from you.’ … African leaders are beginning to see that China’s interests in the region are purely selfish, as opposed to the United States.”

Gen. Michael Langley, leader of the U.S. Africa Command, recently referenced the growing threat posed by China’s presence in his command during a hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

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Langley said China hides its true aspirations behind “a thinly veiled front that is all for goodwill,” noting that Beijing is looking to secure military bases in Western African nations, which would “change the whole calculus.”

“It would change the whole calculus of the geostrategic global campaign plans of protecting the homeland,” he warned. “It would shorten if they build — any capacity on the west coast geostrategically will put them at an advantage. Right now we have the decisive advantage. We cannot let them have a base on the west because it would change the dynamics.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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