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With the exception of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Halley, the Trump administration has shown little interest in Africa. It has been very slow to make Africa-related appointments: there is still no assistant secretary of state for Africa nor is there an ambassador to South Africa, and the new National Security Council Senior Director for Africa officially starts the day after Labor Day. The highly regarded Mark Green was sworn-in as USAID administrator only this month, though he has already visited Africa. But, during his August tour d’horizon of foreign policy issues, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never once mentioned Africa. The administration’s proposed draconian cuts to the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International development, in the unlikely event that Congress allows them, would end most U.S. humanitarian and other assistance to Africa.
Nevertheless, the relationship between the United States and Africa is more than the Trump administration. A sign of that reality is the very large Congressional delegation (CODEL) that is visiting Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and The Gambia just before Labor Day. The delegation is led by Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) and includes Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Rep. Terry Sewell (D-AL), Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL). The agenda is long on substance. For example, in Nigeria, “the giant of Africa,” the CODEL will be looking at the fight against Boko haram, the terrorist group in the northeast, and the humanitarian disaster in the same region. The CODEL is meeting with the most senior Nigerian leadership, including the vice president, the senate president and the speaker of the House.
Congressional engagement, such as this CODEL, is especially important to long term U.S. interests now, when the executive branch under President Trump is so largely absent.