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Vice President Harris is visiting Africa next week, part of a pushback to China

Vice President Harris speaks during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on Dec. 15, 2022.
Andrew Harnik
Vice President Harris speaks during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on Dec. 15, 2022.

Vice President Harris is leaving on Saturday for a week-long trip to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia. She will be the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit the continent as the White House strives to deepen its outreach and counter Chinese influence there.

Harris plans to meet with President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, and President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia — leaders she met with in Washington in December during theAfrica Leaders Summit.

The trip will also touch on a personal note for Harris, senior administration officials told reporters. She will visit Zambia's capital Lusaka, where she traveled as a child. Her grandfather, a civil servant in India, had worked on refugee resettlement issues in Zambia, officials said.

Harris, the first Black vice president, will also tour the Cape Coast Slave Castle in Ghana and give remarks about the brutality of slavery and the African diaspora, officials said.

Harris is the latest in a series of top U.S. officials to visit Africa

Officials said Harris' trip is a part of President Biden's commitment to go "all-in on Africa." The president is expected to visit the continent this year, too.

First lady Jill Biden went to Namibia and Kenya earlier this month and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken went to Ethiopia and Niger last week. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Senegal, Zambia and South Africa this year, too.

"It's a partnership that's not a one-way street. It's not about imposing solutions. And it's not just about foreign aid or humanitarian assistance," a senior administration official said. "It's about mutual investment and mutual economic growth and creative partnerships and deep people-to-people connections between the American people and the people on the African continent."

China has been boosting its presence in Africa

In her discussions with leaders, students and business owners, Harris intends to talk about issues related to democracy, technology, economic growth, food security, and Russia's war in Ukraine, officials said.

The Biden administration push on the continent comes after China and Russia have boosted their investments and presence in the region. Having high-level officials like Harris visit helps provide a contrast with what the U.S. can offer the continent.

China and Russia try "to build dependency," said Mark Green, a former ambassador to Tanzania who was head of the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Trump administration. "We seek to build self-reliance," Green said in an interview.

But the U.S. focus has to be on listening to leaders about the needs of the continent rather than on U.S. geopolitical strategy, said Green, who is now the head of the Wilson Center in Washington.

"Whenever you say 'strategic' or whenever you talk about China, the natural reaction for Africans is, 'OK, well, this isn't about us, it's about somebody else,'" Green said.

Countering China's influence around the world is one of Biden's top foreign policy priorities. But White House officials insist these visits to Africa are more about forming connections rather than countering the influence of other nations.

"Our relationship with Africa cannot and should not and will not be defined by competition with China," a senior administration official told reporters. "We're not asking our partners in Africa to choose. We want to expand African options, not limit them."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.