DAKAR, SENEGAL - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit three African countries, beginning in Senegal this weekend. The West African nation has remained secure during a time of major unrest in the region and Pompeo is expected to celebrate the country’s legacy of stability and democracy.
The United States and West Africa have enjoyed a long relationship based on trade, migration and democracy. But increasingly, security has become a major factor in the partnership.
The number of violent attacks perpetrated by Islamist extremist groups in the Sahel has doubled each year since 2016, according to U.S. Department of Defense research group the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Deaths linked to these attacks have also doubled each year and intercommunal violence has risen dramatically.
Senegal, meanwhile, has managed to maintain peace within its borders. In his visit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to praise the country as an example for the continent, according to a senior State Department official.
But reports about U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the region have invited criticism.
Hannah Akuiyibo, a program associate with the Wilson Center, a Washington policy group, says she hopes the visit will bring more clarity to the United States' position.
"I think there's been some mixed messaging given statements about the reduction in military presence in Africa while at the same time, an announcement from Secretary Pompeo about the focus of an anti-ISIS coalition shifting to West Africa and the Sahel," she said. " So those two messages don't quite align."
Tulinabo Mushingi is the U.S. ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. He says the U.S. remains committed to West Africa's well-being.
Mushingi notes the U.S. has invested tens of millions of dollars in Senegalese security initiatives alone. Donations have included patrol boats, mobile hospitals and a training center for regional peacekeepers.
"What we're trying to do is make the Senegalese forces capable, so that they can defend their country first, but also contribute to the peace and security, the stability in the region…But I can guarantee you that the engagement of the USA in the Sahel – we are here to stay," he said.
In addition to security talks, Secretary Pompeo is expected to meet with business leaders to discuss the expansion of U.S. trade and investment with Senegal.