By Courtney McBride
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded a three-country tour of Africa, where the Trump administration has pledged continued U.S. aid and called for greater private-sector involvement in the economy.
In Addis Ababa on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo hailed Ethiopia's democratization advances and economic overhaul under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won last year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Pompeo, on his first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa as secretary of state, earlier stopped in Senegal and Angola. The Trump administration is contending with a multifaceted diplomatic, economic and security challenge on the continent, where it is reconsidering the future of approximately 6,000 troops and vying for influence with China.
U.S. officials praised Ethiopia, Africa's second-most-populous country, as a security partner and emerging market for U.S. goods and services. A senior State Department official pointed to the government's release of thousands of political prisoners, noninterference in popular protests and economic overhauls that had transformed "a public-sector-led infrastructure model that had delivered double-digit growth for years, but had pretty much come to the end of its useful life."
U.S. development assistance is focused on economic growth, individual freedoms and expanding the private sector, another senior State Department official said, evolving from a focus on "basic service delivery" in the 1950s and 1960s.
"The private sector is the way that countries become developed," the official said, adding U.S. aid is meant as a catalyst for that. "We're really looking at how we can include the private sector."
President Trump repeatedly has attempted to reduce U.S. foreign assistance. His administration's proposed fiscal 2021 budget for the State Department would slash funding for aid and global health programs, among others.
The second State Department official said the U.S. government has maintained an annual average of approximately $1 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, and is adding about $130 million in new money focused on seven priority areas that include elections, rule of law and economic growth.
Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday that U.S. aid can help alleviate poverty in areas of the world like Africa, but is unlikely to solve it. "Government spending often can't attack the very basis of the problem," he said in remarks at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
In an apparent reference to China, Mr. Pompeo warned that not all countries would employ Washington's partnership-based approach to doing business on the continent.
"Countries should be wary of authoritarian regimes and their empty promises," Mr. Pompeo said. "They breed corruption, dependency -- they don't hire the local people, they don't train, they don't lead them."
Asked about Mr. Pompeo's comments, a Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington pointed to remarks last month in Zimbabwe by State Councilor Wang Yi, who said China is Africa's largest trading partner and that in 20 years of cooperation, it has built more than 6,000 miles of roads and rail lines; nearly 20 ports and 80 large power plants across the continent, along with schools and medical facilities. China has trained more than 200,000 Africans in job skills, Mr. Wang said.
U.S. officials have said China frequently attaches conditions to its aid, including unaffordable repayment terms that end up giving the country a stake in public works projects or preferential rights to port usage.
Mr. Pompeo on Tuesday announced an additional $8 million in U.S. government funding to aid Ethiopia in locust control. A severe infestation of the crop-destroying insects has hit the region, and experts say forecast rains could exacerbate it. The U.S. earlier committed $800,000 to locust response, the senior department official said.
In addition to Mr. Abiy, Mr. Pompeo met with President Sahle-Work Zewde and Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew.
The secretary also met with Moussa Faki Mahamat, who heads the African Union Commission at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. They discussed regional security, according to the State Department.
Security also was a theme of Mr. Pompeo's weekend visit to Senegal, where top officials urged the U.S. to maintain a security presence and help counter surging extremist organizations. Later, in Angola, he hailed the anticorruption efforts of President João Lourenço.
Write to Courtney McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org