U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley arrived in Ethiopia in an initial step towards U.S. President Donald Trump's bid to re-engage the continent of Africa.
At a recent lunch with African nation leaders, Trump pointed out that there was “tremendous business potential” in Africa, before adding that he had friends “trying to get rich” there.
Haley's trip to the continent is among the first by any Trump administration high-ranking member.
“The president is sending me because we want to build (our Africa policy) back up to what it was under (President George W. Bush); it has fallen and our African friends feel that,” Haley told a George W. Bush Institute event in New York on Thursday.
Last month, the U.S. president announced that Haley would be visiting the region, specifically to hold peace talks between the war-ravaged nations of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Millions of people have been displaced by ongoing violence in the countries, costing each U.N. peacekeeping missions more than $1 billion annually.
The envoy, in a published article, said that the United States intends to review how both governments are using the funds the U.S. contributes to the UN.
"The UN spends over $2 billion per year on the peacekeeping missions in these two countries alone. The United States is by far its largest financial donor. The goodwill and generosity of the American people are well-known, and we will continue to help the most vulnerable. But we will not do that if our assistance is continuously blocked from reaching people in need. We need to see progress toward political solutions in both countries that lead to sustained peace and stability for their people," she wrote in the piece for CNN.
"The United States has many interests in these war-torn African countries. Our interests are certainly humanitarian, but they are also economic and strategic," she stated in the op-ed.
Haley plans to reiterate her stance during meetings with South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Congolese President Joseph Kabila.
On Sunday, the European Union (EU) pledged its own aid to the continent, earmarking 106 million euros to neighboring Sudan, which has suffered from the effects of natural disasters. The pledge was acknowledged by an official who represents the northernmost state of the two Sudans, a country which shares borders with two of Haley's stopovers – Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Sudan's First Vice-President and Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Saleh met the visiting European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.
"The first vice-president's meeting with the European official reviewed the positive development regarding the humanitarian and political affairs in Sudan," Attal-Mannan Bakheet, Sudan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs, told reporters.
According to a statement from the foreign ministry, Stylianides' visit to capital city Khartoum aims to enhance humanitarian cooperation between Sudan and the EU, including reviewing the latter's projects in Darfur as well as the condition of South Sudanese refugees.
On Saturday, the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) handed over 11 sites to the Sudanese government in phase 1 of a reconfiguration process.
“We have closed 11 team sites across Darfur according to the timelines provided by United Nations Headquarters in New York and the Security Council. Of these, ZamZam, North Darfur, was the last to be closed yesterday (21 October). The deadline we at UNAMID initially set for ourselves was the end of this month, but we managed to close the sites well before this,” Ashraf Eissa, spokesperson of UNAMID’s Joint Special Representative (JSR), said at a press conference in Khartoum on Sunday.
The hybrid mission, which aimed to stem violence against civilians in western Sudan, has been deployed since December 2007. It is the world’s second-largest international peacekeeping force, with a yearly budget of $1.35 billion and a 20,000-troop complement.
A UN diplomat revealed that the United States said it did not want the United Nations to fund any African coalition force formed to fight militants in West Africa.
While African diplomats are hoping Haley’s trip will spark Washington to have broader engagement with the continent.
“We hope that after this trip the administration will sit down and maybe before the end of the year we can hear their Africa strategy,” said a senior African diplomat at the United Nations, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We would have wished it was earlier, but it’s never too late.”
Haley’s visit to Africa comes after four U.S. soldiers were killed during an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4. “The Niger crisis has shown that they can’t take a hands-off approach to (Africa). They have to remain engaged because they have boots on the ground,” shared a second senior African diplomat at the United Nations, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
But, Haley favors a reduction in UN's peacekeeping coffers by its largest contributor. The United States, which contributes 28% of the agency's $7.8-billion peacekeeping budget, announced that it would cut nearly $1.3 billion of its funding from October 2017.
“Throughout the world, we have seen that desperate situations can lead to dangerous results. For this reason, President Donald Trump recently asked me to travel to the region to get a first-hand picture of what can be done,” Haley wrote in a CNN oped on Saturday.
On Thursday, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein succinctly stated that the United States' global engagement was “caught somewhere between isolationism and militarism, with no clear direction in foreign policy apart from a few notable, exceptional, files.”
Al Hussein's statement is reflective of the absence of any permanent chief diplomats in Africa, but rather troops from the United States. During the lunch with the African nation leaders, Trump also referenced significant threats of militant groups, such as Islamic State, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and al Qaida, in the region.
“The United States is proud to work with you to eradicate terrorist safe havens,” he said. “And a number of you have told me... that we’ve been doing a very good job over the last six or seven months in particular.”
The Bureau of African Affairs is led by career diplomat Don Yamamoto, who fills the role of acting assistant secretary of state.
“They seem to be relying very heavily on their ambassadors on the ground and not having a Washington-centric approach to their relationship with Africa,” the second diplomat analyzed.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, in August, traveled to Togo to discuss a free trade pact with the sub-Saharan region, but the talks ended with no decision.