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Tillerson's trip shows how US misreads Africa | Updated: 2018-03-12 21:10
File photo of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. [Photo/Agencies]

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has described his five-nation African visit, which started on Wednesday, as a “listening tour”. The purpose of the visit, he said, “is to listen to what the priorities of the countries here on the continent are and see where there is good alignment”.

It’s a welcome attitude that can help mend US-African ties after President Donald Trump’s disrespectful remark toward African countries in January. But a little homework might have made his fact-finding trip more productive, given his tight schedule.

African people have made clear what they consider to be the priorities. For a continent that is home to 75 percent of the world’s poorest countries, and where more than 1 million people, mostly children under the age of 5, die every year from malaria, what is needed is economic development, improved infrastructure, more jobs and health programs.

China has been working for years to try to meet Africa’s needs, helping African countries build railways, bridges and ports, while providing them with other forms of assistance. That is why most African countries have sought to forge a partnership with China. “No country can develop itself without having a strong infrastructure. And China is, from that perspective, a very good partner,” as Djibouti Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said on Friday.

The United States favors different solutions to Africa’s problems, being largely engaged through foreign aid. US investment in the continent has been on the decline, so it is viewed as withdrawing from Africa while China has been increasing its engagement.

This may explain why the US cannot win consent from African countries when it points an accusing finger at China for almost anything.

Only he who wears the shoes knows whether they fit, as the saying goes. African people are smart enough to know what they need most.

It is time the US started to listen to them, rather than seek to speak for them.

African countries are seeking to realize peace, stability and development and that serves not only the interests of Africa, but the common interests of all countries. The international community should support it in this endeavor. China is playing its part and it welcomes more countries making positive inputs to support African countries’ efforts to pursue development.

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