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Kamala Harris kicks off Africa tour with $100M pledge as U.S. tries to counter China and Russia's influence

Harris visit aims to improve U.S.-Africa ties
Kamala Harris to visit Africa as part of U.S. effort to strengthen ties with continent 05:07

Johannesburg — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Ghana Sunday night to kick off a three-nation tour of Africa  her first visit to the continent since taking office. She was greeted by schoolchildren waving Ghanaian and American flags as she walked off the plane in Accra, and quickly announced a significant new U.S. financial support package for Ghana and a handful of other nations in the region.

Harris smiled at the dancers and said she was "looking forward to this trip as a further statement of the long and enduring and very important relationship and friendship between the people of the United States and those who live on the continent of Africa."  

The vice president said she was "very excited" about the future of the continent, and "the impact of the future of Africa on the rest of the world, including the United States of America."

Harris held a bilateral meeting with President Nana Akufo Addo in Accra in her first high-profile encounter as she begins the nine-day tour of central African nations.

Harris Ghana
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is welcomed by Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra, Ghana, March 27, 2023. Misper Apawu/AP

"The U.S. is strengthening our partnerships across the continent of Africa, and they are guided not by what we can do for Africa, but with Africa and our African partners on this continent," Harris said at a news conference with the Ghanaian leader after their meeting, lauding his leadership for having made Ghana a "beacon of democracy."

Harris announced $100 million in new support for Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire, and Togo, to help the nations address security, governance, and development issues in the region. White House officials said Harris' trip and meetings would focus on democracy, climate change, security, the economy and the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  

Harris' tour is part of the Biden administration's bolstered efforts to strengthen ties on the continent. She is the fifth top administration official to visit Africa this year, following Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.   

The flurry of official visits follows the U.S.-Africa leaders' summit in December, where President Biden announced a $55 billion commitment to the continent over the next three years.

Biden says U.S. is "all in on Africa's future" 06:27

Harris was quoted at the summit as saying that U.S. partnerships with African nations would be guided not by what America does "for the continent," but what it does "with Africa." That phrasing was a very thinly-veiled jab at China and Russia, which have invested heavily across the continent for years to gain influence.

Some analysts argue the U.S. has been late in mounting its African outreach, as Beijing has spent huge sums developing infrastructure, lending cash and, in some countries, even building a telecommunications network. Often the investments come in exchange for access to vital mineral resources. 

Ghana already has a $2 billion infrastructure agreement with a Chinese company to help develop roads and other projects, in exchange for access to aluminium ore.   

Harris' trip comes as most African nations struggle to recover from the combined effects of the global coronavirus pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ghana, one of the continent's most politically stable and secure countries, is reeling from inflation that's soared over 50% and a national debt crisis in the wake of the pandemic.

Blinken is first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Niger 02:21

Russia, too, has reignited its relationships with many African countries. Liberation movements across the continent were backed with arms, military training and financial help from the former Soviet Union, and Moscow is now leveraging those historical relationships across the continent to increase trade as well as influence — including through the deployment of mercenaries from the Wagner group in at least four African countries.  

Burkina Faso and Mali have each seen two coups in recent years, all staged by local groups aligned with Islamic extremists. The unrest has created windows for Russia to supply mercenary forces in both those countries, as well as in the Central African Republic and Sudan. 

Harris was expected to discuss the region's security issues at length with Afuko-Addo on Monday. 

One U.S. official told CBS News the stakes would be high for Harris on this trip. Her job is to convince African countries that the U.S. believes in their future and wants to invest, as the perception across the continent right now is that Washington is less and less interested and sees the continent merely as a charity case.  

That perception was partly fueled by the previous Trump administration's apparent lack of interest, and by disparaging comments from Trump himself, who referred to some African nations as "s***hole countries" in 2018.

A United Nations General Assembly vote on a resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine focused attention on Africa last year, as half of all abstentions came from African nations, including Tanzania, which Harris is set to visit this week after Ghana. 

Richard Gowan, U.N. Director for the International Crisis Group, told CBS News' Pamela Falk after Yellen visited the continent earlier this year that the top-level American outreach represents an important diplomatic effort, and he said the Biden administration appeared to be taking the initiative seriously.

"But at the end of the day," Gowan told CBS News, "African leaders will ask if this is a short-term courtship or the start of a more sustained U.S. attempt to rebuild ties on the continent, because China is winning influence in Africa through long-term business arrangements… If the U.S. is not able to counter China's economic outreach, American diplomatic outreach will not be a game-changer."  

Accompanied on the trip by her husband, Doug Emhoff, Harris is expected to give a speech Tuesday at the Cape Coast castle, where enslaved Africans were loaded onto ships bound for the U.S. during the transatlantic slave trade.

After Tanzania, the vice president will wrap up her tour of Africa with a stop in Zambia.

There's been much talk across the continent that Harris' trip could be followed by a multi-country tour by President Biden in the coming months, but the White House hasn't yet confirmed any plans by the chief executive to visit the continent.   

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