State Department’s number two, Wendy Sherman, meets two presidents on African tour

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Monday, 9 May 2022 17:50

US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman attends a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, 22 April 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool

Deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman met with two African presidents in three countries on her first official visit to sub-Saharan Africa since joining the Joe Biden administration.

She visited South Africa, Angola and Gabon during the senior-most diplomatic visit to the region since secretary of state Antony Blinken visited in November. During her five-day trip that ended with a swing by Paris, Sherman honed in on US priorities for relations with the continent, including the fight against climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, deepening bilateral trade and investment, and pressing for international condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“African voices matter when it comes to Ukraine,” Sherman said in a call with reporters on 6 May. “[President Vladimir] Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is shattering the lives and livelihoods of the Ukrainian people first and foremost – and the Russian people, for that matter, but it is also affecting people around the world, with higher energy prices and food prices, all caused by President Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

…the United States considers South Africa not just a regional leader, but a global one.

She said this month the US has made food security a “major focus” of its presidency at the United Nations Security Council even as congress debates a massive aid package to help address the fallout from the invasion. Africa has been split in its response to Russia’s actions, with Gabon – one of the council members – voting to condemn Moscow at the General Assembly in March, while Angola and South Africa abstained.

Booming business

In Pretoria, Sherman met with foreign minister Naledi Pandor and her deputy Alvin Botes for discussions around trade, investment, climate change and the fight against Covid-19. South Africa is a key African partner in the global campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, having agreed to transform its coal-intensive energy sector in exchange for $8.5bn in funding from rich countries.

“We also discussed regional issues and global issues of peace and security, as the United States considers South Africa not just a regional leader, but a global one,” Sherman told reporters.

She also visited the Nike factory in Soweto and delivered the state department’s International Women of Courage Award to Roegchanda Pascoe, a community activist against gender-based violence and the first South African woman to win the award.

In Angola, Sherman met with President João Lourenço, foreign minister Tete António and minister of state Francisco Furtado for discussions on trade and investment, maritime security, the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. She launched the Global VAX Initiative in partnership with the Angolan government and announced plans to provide more than $25m in new resources to get more vaccines.

The visit comes as Angola is looking to turn a new leaf after the corruption-plagued reign of former president José Eduardo dos Santos. Luanda has launched a massive lobbying campaign to change its image in Washington and is looking to join the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) next month.

In Luanda, Sherman also visited the offices of Africell, a London-based mobile technology company founded by US entrepreneur Ziad Dalloul. It is on the front lines of the West’s competition with China for 5G dominance in Africa.

“It’s not about throwing shade on Huawei,” she told The Africa Report during the May 6 press call.  “We’ve been very direct. We believe that when countries choose Huawei, they are potentially giving up their sovereignty. They are turning over their data to another country. They may find themselves bringing in […] surveillance capability they didn’t even know was there, so we’ve been very public about our concerns about Huawei. And […] we are glad that Africell can provide to the people of Angola a safe, capable tool in their hands to reach out to the world.”

Climate leader

Finally, in Gabon, Sherman met with President Ali Bongo Ondimba and foreign minister Michael Moussa Adamo to congratulate them on their leadership on environmental conservation. Last year, Gabon became the first African country to get paid by the United Nations-backed Central African Forest Initiative to reduce carbon emissions by protecting its rainforest under a $150m deal struck in 2019.

“Over 80% of Gabon’s territory is made up of forests, and over 10% of the country has been set aside as national parks,” Sherman said on her press call. “I want to acknowledge and applaud Gabon’s leadership on conservation – not just in Africa, but globally.”

She also met with defense minister Félicité Ongouori Ngoubili to discuss the security partnership with Gabon, which is notably at risk from the growing threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

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