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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 8th March 2018

Tough talking Tillerson's tour

Blue Lines

Rex Tillerson, Washington's Secretary of State, started his swing on 6 March through Africa – Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Nigeria and Chad – with a bellicose warning to China over its regional policy. Despite the billions of dollars from China that has been sluicing through Africa, Beijing was simply building up a coterie of client states according to Tillerson. Many of the Chinese loans would create dependency rather than development, he insisted. As a show of United States goodwill, Tillerson announced a US$533 million contribution towards famine relief in East Africa as he set off for Addis Ababa.

The real stakes of the Tillerson tour are security: strategic rivalry with China but also to boost regional counter-terrorism operations. Djibouti is the sharpest edge of the Washington-Beijing rivalry. Djibouti, which hosts US, Chinese, French, German and Japanese military bases, irritated Washington four years ago when it more than doubled the rent for the base. Djibouti's break with United Arab Emirates and its port company, DP World, further annoys Washington as President Omar Guelleh's government may hand over DP World's terminal at Doraleh to a Chinese company, according to speakers in Congress in Washington on 6 March.

Marine General Thomas Waldhauser told Congress that if China controls Doraleh, that would affect US capacity to run its base in Djibouti and resupply its ships. Washington was now far behind in a strategic race with Beijing in Africa, he added.