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Yellen heads to Africa as US seeks closer ties amid China inroads

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US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is to visit Senegal, Zambia and South Africa in an extended trip starting this week./AFP
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Jan 18, 2023 - 03:53 AM

WASHINGTON — US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is heading for an 11-day trip to Africa starting this week, aimed at deepening economic ties on the continent where China has become a key player.

Yellen’s travel to Senegal, Zambia and South Africa from Wednesday onwards comes after a detour to Switzerland where she is set to meet Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on macroeconomic issues.

The extended visit follows a US-Africa summit in Washington last month, where the United States laid out billions in projects over the coming years along with private sector investment.

With rivals China and Russia competing for influence and opportunity in Africa, the US has been working to stave off an erosion of its once-powerful position in the region.

Yellen’s visit will begin in Senegal, where she will meet on Friday with President Macky Sall, who is also the current chair of the African Union.

She is expected in Senegal to highlight US efforts to boost economic ties with the region “by expanding trade and investment flows,” the Treasury said in a statement previewing her trip.

Yellen will then travel to Zambia to meet President Hakainde Hichilema as well as other finance officials.

Hichilema, who took office in 2021, has promised to restore the copper-rich nation’s credibility and creditworthiness after inheriting a cash-strapped economy.

Yellen is also expected to speak on efforts to improve global health and prepare for future pandemics, as well as on food production.

In South Africa, which recently assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS emerging economies group, Yellen will meet Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and South Africa Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago.

While in Africa, Yellen is also to stress the importance of accelerating clean energy access and “underscore the spillover effects” of war in Ukraine, the Treasury said.

Former US ambassador Susan Page told AFP that despite positive developments like the major summit in Washington last year, “the proof is in the pudding” when it comes to pledges of support for African countries.

“Are they really going to come up with the serious money… Or is it going to be a trade-off?” asked Page, now a professor at the University of Michigan.

She added that while US moves have been largely framed as countering China’s advances, it “is a shame because African countries want to be treated as Africa, and not as a wedge between great power competition.”

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