(WASHINGTON) — Kamala Harris, the first Black U.S. vice president, on Saturday begins a historic first trip while in office to Africa, with stops scheduled in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia during her weeklong tour.
She continues the Biden administration’s outreach to African countries amid competition from China and their growing influence on the continent, where countries have forged trade and other ties with Beijing.
Previewing the vice president’s agenda on a call with reporters on Thursday evening, senior administration officials said Harris will be asking the leaders not to “choose” between the U.S. and China but to “expand” their options.
“We can’t ignore the current geopolitical moment. It’s no secret that we are engaged in competition with China. And we’ve said very clearly we intend to out-compete China in the long term,” the officials said.
In a show of how much Tanzania values their relationship with China, President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s first state visit outside of Africa last November was to meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing where their meeting focused on areas of cooperation such as agriculture trade and infrastructure.
Harris, in her own visit to Africa, will hold bilateral meetings in each country that will involve “wide-ranging discussions” on regional security, democracy, strengthening business ties, debt relief and restructuring and the impact on Africa from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials said.
“Russia’s war is not only hurting the people of Ukraine and Europe, but it’s hurting Africans and others around the world by generating rising food and commodity prices that are actually having a disproportional impact on African countries,” the administration officials told reporters Thursday.
Two notable moments to watch for during Harris’ trip will be in Ghana and Zambia. The administration officials said that on Monday Harris will tour Cape Coast Castle, a former slave-trade outpost and location of the so-called “Door of No Return,” and deliver remarks on the “brutality of slavery and the African diaspora.”
And Harris’ time in Zambia will be notable as it marks her return to the country for the first time since she was a young girl. In the 1960s, she traveled there to visit her maternal grandfather, who was a civil servant in India and worked for several years in the Zambian government on refugee resettlement issues.
“The vice president is very much looking forward to returning to Lusaka [the Zambian capital], which is a part of her family’s story and a source of pride,” the senior administration officials said Thursday, suggesting there would be “more to say” about this portion of the trip as that day nears and that Harris would “have much more to say about this herself throughout the trip.”
Harris departs Washington on Saturday evening and arrives in Ghana on Sunday afternoon, though her first engagements will take place on Monday, beginning with a bilateral meeting with President Nana Akufo-Addo, followed by a visit to a local recording studio in Accra.
On Tuesday she is set to deliver a “major speech to an audience of young people,” tour Cape Coast Castle and “speak about the brutality of slavery and the African Diaspora” from that location as well.
Also in Accra on Wednesday, Harris will meet with women entrepreneurs and discuss the economic empowerment of women. During that meeting, senior administration officials said, Harris is expected to announce a “series of continent-wide, public and private sector investments to help close the digital gender divide and to empower women economically more broadly.”
Harris travels to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Wednesday afternoon and on Thursday she begins the day meeting with President Samia Suluhu Hassan. The vice president will also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy there, and she will meet with entrepreneurs at a tech incubator and coworking space.
Next Friday, March 31, Harris departs Tanzania for Lusaka where she will meet with President Hakainde Hichilema.
And on April 1, she will focus on climate adaptation and resilience and food security, along with a convening of “business and philanthropic leaders from both the continent and for the United States to discuss digital and financial inclusion on the continent,” administration officials said.
She arrives back in Washington on April 2.
It’s the latest high-profile international tour for Harris, who has been an administration lead on issues including immigration — on which she has sometimes drawn backlash — and, more recently, highlighting what the White House said is the importance of ensuring abortion access after Roe v. Wade was overruled.
The vice president’s trip is also the latest show of support from the administration amid President Joe Biden’s push to engage closer with the African continent.
At the U.S.-Africa summit in Washington last year, Biden said the United States was “all in on Africa and all in with Africa,” adding that the continent “belongs at the table in every room” where global challenges are being discussed. Biden announced then that he was “eager” to visit the continent himself, though the White House has not announced any official travel.
Harris’ visit also comes on the heels of a series of other notable trips by high-ranking figures in the administration.
Just over a week ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken became the first person in his post to visit Niger and announced $150 million in new humanitarian assistance for Africa’s Sahel region. During the first stop of his tour, he also committed $331 million in new humanitarian aid for Ethiopia.
First lady Jill Biden was in Namibia and Kenya last month for a five-day visit focused on food insecurities in the Horn of Africa as well as challenges facing youth and women. In Kenya, she met with drought-affected communities and heard first-hand accounts of its devastating impacts in the region.
Following her visit, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it was providing over $126 million in additional food assistance for Kenya.
And in January, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen began the administration’s engagement with a 10-day tour to Senegal, South Africa and Zambia; and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield made stops in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique.
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