Harris’ visit seeks to restore US clout in Africa: Analysts

US Vice President Kamala Harris

What you need to know:

  • America’s focus is not on the individual countries that Ms Harris is expected to visit, but on the African continent as a whole, analysts contend

Dar es Salaam. Analysts say they believe US Vice President Kamala Harris’ upcoming trip to Tanzania will significantly promote and strengthen US interests in the country.

Today, VP Harris starts her weeklong trip in Africa by visiting Ghana. From West Africa, Ms Harris would fly directly to Tanzania for a three-day state visit, before heading to Zambia in the final leg of her tour.

According to the official American narrative, Ms Harris—the first female vice president with African ancestors—will work during the tour to strengthen partnerships, security, and economic prosperity.

But experts say the changing global geopolitical balance of power is one of the factors behind the visit. In April 2022, Ms Harris hosted President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Washington.

She used the meeting to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and to emphasise how important it was for the world to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tanzania and other countries to oppose the Ukraine war.

Just before President Hassan’s spring 2022 US trip, Tanzania had abstained on all three resolutions related to the conflict at the UN General Assembly, including the vote demanding that Russia withdraw its military forces.

Experts say America’s focus is not on the individual countries that Ms Harris is expected to visit, but on the African continent as a whole.

“The West, especially the US, wants to reclaim its hegemony over Africa from China and its allies; it seems the US has learned from its mistakes,” a renowned economist, Haji Semboja, who teaches economics at the Zanzibar University (ZU), says.

Ms Harris’ visit was also motivated by the need for the United States to maintain its fair share of global trade, according to Enock Wiketye, Professor of Economics at the University of Iringa (UoI).

“Historically, the US and Europe held the largest part of global trade, but things have changed; Asian countries are now in the lead. China is very active in Africa, thus the US feels it needs to assert its dominance once more,” he observed.

In addition, the UoI don stated, China has established itself as the largest bilateral creditor to the continent, and so the US must intensify diplomatic engagement to maintain its advantages and remain competitive.

He contends that the United States does not have permanent friends, but rather permanent interests, and as a result, the visit will be centred on these interests, which will ultimately be advantageous to the US in some way.

For the Tanzanian government, the US VP’s visit is all about Tanzania’s development. A press release from the ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation says Ms Harris’ visit is intended to improve US-Tanzania development partnerships.

The Foreign Ministry lists health, agriculture, tourism, transportation, the blue economy, communication, and the digital economy as areas of focus during the visit.

President Hassan and Ms Harris are also expected to discuss trade and investment, entrepreneurship, women’s economic empowerment, and climate change and resilience concerns.

Analysts further argue that President Hassan’s diplomatic tour de force in the past two years has, of course, borne fruit.

Mr Semboja says the visit is, thus, a response to President Hassan’s numerous trips to the US and her decision to economically reconnect Tanzania with the rest of the globe.

“President Hassan has a vision to open the country economically; she has made several visits to the US... Before investing, American investors would need to see for themselves the situation on the ground. It may take time,” he explained.

But Ms Donna Brazile, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, thinks Harris’ trip is meant to improve relationships with nations that were left out under the foreign policy agenda pursued by the previous US administration.

In an opinion piece, Ms Brazile writes; “Harris will meet with Presidents Samia Hassan, Nana Akufo-Addo, and Hakainde Hichilema of Tanzania, Ghana, and Zambia, respectively, to build on the progress made at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in December last year.”

She adds: “Harris and the three African presidents will discuss African development issues, bilateral relations, Russia’s war against Ukraine, and other issues. Harris will also meet with young leaders, businesses, and others outside of government.”

According to her, during the summit, US President Joe Biden and Senator Harris announced plans to work with Congress to invest at least $55 billion in Africa over three years on a broad range of initiatives.

These include actions to increase trade and investment on the continent, accelerate the growth of African economies, improve health care, build renewable energy projects, expand Internet access and literacy, increase the food supply, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security.