Of the Kenya-Ethiopia-Djibouti-Chad-Nigeria circuit United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is covering in his first official African outing, he is perhaps only familiar with Nigeria, where the company he headed before joining government – ExxonMobil – drills a lot of oil.
He also knows Angola well, for the same reason. The rest of Africa must be a blur, which presumably has been filled by copious briefing notes from his aides.
In meetings with his hosts, there will of course be ringing expressions of regret for that unfortunate s***hole insult by Tillerson’s weird boss, but that is not really the point of his tour.
The primary focus of his trip is counter-terrorism — meaning al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.
Look at the map of where the five countries he is visiting are, and remember how they relate to the two jihadist insurgencies.
Donald Trump likes to shout “America First!”, but one area where he is decidedly not stingy is on the war against global terrorism.
US air and drone strikes against al-Shabaab camps in Somalia have dramatically intensified since he took office.
Nor is he likely to support cuts in funding for Amisom like the United Nations and the European Union have done if he thinks the force is fighting effectively.
I don’t know if the stalled matter of the dozen AT-802L “Air Tractor” aircraft the US was to supply to Kenya came up during the official discussions with Tillerson.
Before objections on price arose, the Kenyan military was keen on them because they are ideally suited to air-to-ground counter-insurgency operations against al-Shabaab, unlike the F-5 jets the Kenya Air Force currently has which are built for a different kind of war.
We should not miss the other war going on above our heads between America and China for African hearts and minds.
Tillerson’s surprisingly undiplomatic salvo in Addis Ababa, which was his first stop, set the tone of his visit.
He said Chinese loans were burdening Africa, and that Chinese engagement was not creating durable local jobs or training opportunities.
Sometimes I think America is overplaying it, for she has so much more to offer of value.
The competition has become fiercer since China overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009.
America, meanwhile, remains the continent’s biggest aid donor, with Kenya being a top recipient.
Trump has talked belligerently of cutting foreign aid, though in the case of Africa this has not happened. US dealings with Africa are normally transactional, depending on situation.
Her aid is multi-faceted. It goes to education, agriculture, civil society and the private sector in general.
America is particularly big in our health sector, where she supports maternal and child programmes, family planning and HIV/Aids issues.
She is also very generous when humanitarian emergencies occur. Important as these interventions are, they don’t leave the same kind of visible imprint of China with her mega-projects of roads, ports and railways.
Tillerson is coming as an imperial emissary, requiring everybody to bow to his word.
Among the unexpectedly tenacious negotiators he will meet is Monica Juma, Kenya’s Foreign minister.
She will drive a hard bargain on Amisom’s threatened funding and the problem of the unsustainable number of refugees in Kenya.
In the short stint she has been in charge, our foreign policy has taken a newly assertive tone.
The travel advisory on South Sudan was the first of its kind, and has naturally angered that country’s leaders.
Tillerson no doubt will have a lot to say in Kenya, as elsewhere he travels.
Certainly he will speak loudly about democracy and corruption. In particular, he will raise the matter of the recent shutdown of TV stations, which he will couch in the language of press freedom.
Could it be by chance Uhuru Kenyatta saw the need to offer an olive branch to Raila Odinga hours before Tillerson was to arrive? Nah.
Coincidentally, Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is presently on his own look-see tour of Africa.
A grand meeting with Tillerson in an African capital speculated by the international press was unlikely.