Warning that Africa’s violence political chaos and humanitarian disasters could metastasize into larger security threats to the United States, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley began a diplomatic mission to help solve two of Africa’s most brutal conflicts.
Haley arrived in Ethiopia Monday for talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and African Union officials. After the meetings, Haley said she hoped this was the beginning of “a stronger relationship” with the AU and Washington’s partners in Africa.
“The United States very much sees Africa as a very important part of the world. We see great opportunities in Africa, we see challenges in Africa, but we want to support and help in those situations,” she said. “Most importantly we want to see how we can partner together, whether that is through economic development, whether it is through strategic practices, whether it’s through political solutions.”
Haley will also travel to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in one of the first visits to the continent by a senior member of the Trump administration.
President Donald Trump has said little about Africa since taking office but the killing of four US soldiers during an ambush by ISIS affiliated fighters in Niger earlier this month has focused attention on Washington’s expanded military presence and counter-terrorism operations against militants in Africa.
“Throughout the world, we have seen that desperate situations can lead to dangerous results,” Haley wrote in an op-ed for CNN published before she left for Africa. “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.”
After her meetings, Haley warned that left unresolved Africa’s conflicts could leave a vacuum that “becomes a breeding ground for extremist groups,” citing the conflict in South Sudan.
During a lunch with nine Africa leaders last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Trump announced he was dispatching Haley to South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo to help broker peace efforts. Millions of people in both countries have been displaced by violence and South Sudan has been plagued by famine.
Haley said she would be deliver a blunt message to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Congolese President Joseph Kabila “that their governments need to stop making the work of aid workers and peacekeepers more difficult.”
The Trump administration has signaled it is reviewing its relationship with Kiir. The US supported Kir’s rise to power in 2011 when, after decades of conflict, the nation won independence from neighboring Sudan.
The country spiraled into civil war in 2013 when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer. The conflict, marked by brutal attacks on civilians, has produced Africa’s largest refugee crisis, with four million people, one third of the population, displaced from their homes.
The US is the biggest donor to the UN led humanitarian effort in South Sudan, spending about $2.7 billion since 2013.
As many people have been displaced in DRC, where Haley has accused President Kabila of “predatory behavior” against his own people. His term expired in December 2016, yet he refuses to step down.
South Sudan and the DRC are home to the most expensive UN peacekeeping missions, costing more than $1 billion annually. The US is the biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping, though Haley has focused on cutting costs of UN peacekeeping since taking office. She pledged in her op-ed to take a critical look at the UN operations in both countries.
Diplomats and experts hope Haley’s visit will shed more light on the Trump administration’s strategy towards the continent which many analysts argue is incoherent.
“The administration has no clear Africa policy whatsoever,” says J. Stephen Morrison, a vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a leading voice on Africa policy “The only thing that has any coherence is the military and special ops dimensions. That is where the center of action is, that is where the resources are and where the main debates are happening.”
Critics have also pointed to the Trump’s proposed cuts to aid for Africa.
Haley signaled the Trump administration had a broader view toward Africa.
“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 wrote for CNN.
During his lunch with African leaders, Trump hailed the continent’s “tremendous business potential, saying “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.”
But he also acknowledged the threats from extremist groups, such as al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, ISIS and numerous al Qaeda affiliates.
“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.”
Following the ambush in Niger, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned last week that “the war is headed to Africa.”
“This war is getting hot in places that it’s been cool, and we’ve got to go where the enemy takes us,” Graham told reporters. “It’s beginning to morph.”