Counterterrorism and economic cooperation will be two focal points for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as he travels to Africa and South Asia this week.
Kerry leaves Thursday for a trip that includes stops in Kenya and Djibouti.
His visit to Kenya comes after an al-Shabab rampage at Garissa University College left 147 people dead April 2. The United States has been conducting drone strikes and providing support to African Union troops as part of efforts to fight the Somalia-based extremist group.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said the U.S is constantly reassessing its approach to helping countries deal with threats from extremist groups such as al-Shabab.
Thomas-Greenfield, who will be part of Kerry’s delegation in Africa, said al-Shabab is now more in a defensive mode because of the success that African and U.S. forces have had in pushing back the militants in Somalia.
“Their efforts in Kenya and in other countries outside of Somalia show the desperation, and they are constantly looking for weak areas,” she said.
Kerry’s visit to Kenya also will lay the groundwork for President Barack Obama’s July visit to Nairobi for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a forum that connects businesses with international groups and governments.
Opportunities for U.S. firms
Thomas-Greenfield said Kenya is one of the African countries where there are increased opportunities for U.S. companies.
“Kenya’s growth rate is extraordinarily high, and the entrepreneurial summit to take place in Kenya in July is recognition of the role that Kenya has played on the economic front of the continent,” said Thomas-Greenfield.
Kerry’s trip to Djibouti will be the first such visit by a sitting secretary of state. He will meet with high-level officials to discuss bilateral cooperation and Djibouti’s support for foreigners fleeing unrest in Yemen.
The African nation has been serving as a stopover point for Americans and other third-country nationals evacuating from Yemen, where there has been fighting between forces loyal to the government and the Houthi rebels.
He also will visit Camp Lemonnier, the primary base of operations for the U.S. Africa Command in the Horn of Africa.
Atlantic Council Africa Center Director Peter Pham said that while Djibouti also is a key shipping hub, the country could benefit from U.S. help with democratization and better governance.
“It is a stable country but certainly is not one of the most democratic, and that lack of openness, lack of transparency, leads one to wonder how long the stability can last,” said Pham.
Help with development issues
Johnnie Carson, who has served as a top U.S. envoy to Africa and ambassador to several African nations, said the best thing the U.S. could do for Djibouti is to help it deal with its economic development challenges — finding wasy to generate more employment for its youth and improve educational and health outcomes for all of its citizens.
Before visiting Africa, Kerry will stop in Sri Lanka. He will be the first secretary of state to visit the country since Colin Powell in 2004.
Kerry will meet with government officials, civil society members and other representatives from the country’s diverse communities.
The U.S. is hoping to strengthen ties with Sri Lanka’s new president, Maithripala Sirisena. Following his January election, he vowed to pursue national reconciliation in Sri Lanka, a country still divided by a decades-long civil war that ended nearly six years ago.