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At a rugby stadium in Pretoria on May 25, Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as South Africa’s fourth democratically elected president since 1994. Citing government austerity measures and perhaps as a sign of the administration’s new dispensation, Ramaphosa’s inauguration will cost about half as much as the 2014 ceremony to swear in Jacob Zuma.
The U.S. presidential delegation to the inauguration was headed by Kimberly A. Reed, the president of the Export-Import Bank. The other members of the delegation included Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Olmem, deputy assistant to the president for economic policy, Jessica Lapenn, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria, and Cyril Sartor, the senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council.
More than two years into the Trump administration, there is still no U.S. ambassador to South Africa. Hence, the embassy is headed by a charge. According to the White House statement, no member of Congress was included in the delegation, nor were any business people. In the past, the presidential delegation to South African inaugurations have included prominent figures, such as First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1994 and Attorney General Janet Reno in 1999, though no delegation was sent to the discredited Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in 2014.
But this year’s presidential delegation was workman-like. All of its members would be directly involved in building the U.S.-South Africa bilateral relationship. There also may have been a trade and investment tilt to the delegation. If so, that would be appropriate. Attracting foreign investments had been one of Ramaphosa’s principal goals since he became president in early 2018. Even if the political and security dimensions of the bilateral relationship over the past decade have been frosty, the economic relationship has continued to develop.