U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went to Gorree Island in Senegal Saturday, and spoke of the “unspeakable cruelty” of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
"Ultimately, Goree Island reminds us that the histories of Africa and America are intimately connected," Yellen said after touring the island. "We know that the tragedy did not stop with the generation of humans taken from here."
Yellen began her 10-day trip to Africa Friday with a visit to a U.S.-funded business incubator for youth and women in Dakar, Senegal.
As the first female U.S. treasury secretary, Yellen got a warm round of applause from the businesswomen at the meeting.
In a speech following the visit, Yellen emphasized America’s intention to expand 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.”
While in Senegal, Yellen will also meet with Senegalese President and head of the African Union Macky Sall, as well as ministers of finance and economy.
Yellen plans to discuss infrastructure projects, pandemic preparedness, democracy strengthening and anti-corruption partnerships. She will also highlight the steps the U.S. has taken to counter the spillover effects of Russia's war in Ukraine by means of food security assistance.
“Russia's war and weaponization of food has exacerbated food insecurity and caused untold suffering,” Yellen said. “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 also acknowledged Africa’s susceptibility to the climate crisis, noting that 17 of the world’s top 20 climate-vulnerable countries are African.
She announced U.S. plans to expand partnerships with Africa on conservation, climate adaptation and access to clean energy, and noted U.S. President Joe Biden’s intentions to provide over $1 billion to support African-led climate resilience efforts.
Yellen acknowledged America’s contribution to the construction of West Africa’s largest wind farm, located just outside Dakar.
On Saturday she will attend the groundbreaking of a U.S.-financed rural electrification project that is being led by an American engineering firm.
Yellen’s trip comes on the heels of last month’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where Biden committed $55 billion in economic, health and security aid to the continent over the next three years.
Several members of the Biden administration, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Climate Envoy John Kerry, have already traveled to Africa.
Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also have plans to visit.
U.S. engagement with Africa took a backseat during the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Beijing was investing billions in African infrastructure projects and becoming Africa's largest trading partner, while Russian-backed paramilitary forces fanned out across the continent.
Africa is home to some of the world’s largest mineral reserves, which will be critical for the Biden administration’s plans to promote clean energy.
Sarah Danzman, an international studies professor at Indiana University Bloomington, summed up the purpose of Yellen’s Africa visit.
“The U.S. wants to emphasize 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.”
That is in stark contrast to the Chinese model of investment, which has prioritized quick construction and resource extraction over good governance requirements, she added.
After Senegal, Yellen will continue her trip with stops in Zambia and South Africa.