US treasury secretary Janet Yellen begins Africa tour in Senegal

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at a women and youth business incubator in Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 20, 2023

Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary of the United States, visited Gorree Island in Senegal on Saturday, where she condemned the “unspeakable cruelty” of the transatlantic slave trade.

After exploring the island, Yellen commented, “Ultimately, Goree Island reminds us that the histories of Africa and America are intimately connected.  We know that the tragedy did not stop with the generation of humans taken from here.”

On the first day of her 10-day tour to Africa, Yellen visited a business incubator in Dakar, Senegal, financed by the United States.

The businesswomen at the meeting enthusiastically applauded Yellen for her historic appointment as the first female U.S. Treasury Secretary.

The visit was followed by a speech by Yellen, in which she reiterated the United States’ commitment to increasing trade and investment in Africa.

“The United States is all in on Africa, and all in with Africa,” she said. “And our engagement is not transactional. It’s not for show. And it’s not for the short term.”

Aside from the ministries of finance and economy, Yellen will meet with Senegalese President and African Union head Macky Sall during her time there.

During her speech, Yellen will focus on anti-corruption initiatives, democracy building, pandemic preparedness, and infrastructure projects. She will also talk about the food security aid the United States has provided to mitigate the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Russia’s war and weaponisation of food has exacerbated food insecurity and caused untold suffering,” Yellen stated. “And with global economic headwinds caused by the actions of a single man, [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin is creating an unnecessary drag on Africa’s economy.”

Yellen added that 17 of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change are located on the African continent.

She underlined U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to invest over $1 billion to support African-led climate resilience efforts. She revealed U.S. plans to increase cooperation with Africa on conservation, climate change, and access to renewable energy.

The largest wind farm in West Africa was built outside Dakar, and Yellen made sure to give the United States some credit for it.

She plans to go to the groundbreaking ceremony for a rural electrification project funded by the United States and conducted by an American engineering firm this Saturday.

After Vice President Joe Biden pledged $55 billion in economic, health, and security aid to Africa during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit last month, Yellen’s visit follows closely.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Climate Envoy John Kerry are just two of the many Biden administration officials who have visited Africa.

Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden and his first wife, Jill Biden, on their trip.

The Trump administration put less emphasis on promoting U.S. interests in Africa. Meanwhile, paramilitary groups supported by Russia spread across Africa even as Beijing invested billions in infrastructure projects and became Africa’s largest commercial partner.

The African mineral deposits are some of the world’s most significant, making the continent an essential part of the Biden administration’s strategy to advance sustainable energy.

Professor of international studies at Indiana University Bloomington Sarah Danzman summed up Yellen’s trip to Africa.

“The U.S. wants to emphasise that U.S. investment is a better and more reliable way to deliver widely shared growth and prosperity across the continent,” she said, “precisely because it is transparent, aligned with values of democracy and human rights, and also tied to governance reforms to reduce corruption.”

She said this stands in stark contrast to the Chinese investment model, which has emphasised speedy building and resource extraction at the expense of acceptable governance standards.

Yellen will continue her travel through Zambia and South Africa after her time in Senegal.

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