Mixed signals as Pompeo begins three-stop Africa tour

The United States’ top diplomat has arrived in Senegal at the start of a whistle-stop tour of three African countries, with analysts viewing it as a bid to counter Chinese influence in Africa at a time of growing confusion over Washington’s strategy on the continent.

On his first official trip to a sub-Saharan African country since taking office almost two years ago, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will also visit Angola and Ethiopia.

Pompeo has already warned of what he called China’s “dangerous influence” on the African continent, saying in January that Chinese investment feeds corruption and undermines the rule of law, and presenting the US as an alternative.

Joseph Ochieno, a political analyst, called Pompeo’s comments “almost hypocritical”.

“I don’t think the US can tell Africa that American companies are necessarily the cleaner ones when it comes to the continent,” he told Al Jazeera, alluding to past corruption and patronage scandals involving US companies in Africa.

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How big a role does China play across the African continent?

Beijing surpassed Washington as Africa’s largest trading partner more than a decade ago, forming a relationship worth about $204bn in trade, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce.

Several African states have also signed on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has seen Beijing finance power plants, roads and other infrastructure projects across the continent.

As a result of the billions of dollars in loans provided by China towards such projects, the country has become Africa’s largest debt holder.

“The US is realising that they were playing games with Africa but China came in – and came in fairly big with minimum, if any, conditions,” Ochieno said.

“Africa is up for grabs, unfortunately”.

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