30 April 2018

Nigeria: Seeking Security Support, Buhari Meets Trump

Photo: Al-Jazeera
Boko Haram.

Nigeria's fight against the Boko Haram jihadist group was expected to top the menu for talks Monday when President Donald Trump meets Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, president of Africa's most populous and wealthiest country.

Buhari will be the first leader from sub-Saharan Africa to visit Trump, and they plan a joint press conference in the White House gardens after their meeting around midday.

In his talks with Trump, Buhari will be seeking support in his battle against Boko Haram, as well as investment in Nigeria's rickety infrastructure.

Trump, meanwhile, has to overcome the hard feelings left by his insulting reference to "shithole countries" in questioning why the US should accept immigrants from Africa.

The US president also raised eyebrows in March by firing Rex Tillerson as secretary of state while he was visiting Nigeria, in part to prepare the ground for Buhari's visit.

But Trump's receiving Buhari at the White House just after visits by France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel is a positive signal, analysts say.

"The fact that the president of Africa's most populous country is visiting Washington at all may be more important to strengthening the US-Africa relationship than any discussion of policy during the trip," said John Campbell, a former US ambassador in Abuja who is now at the Council of Foreign Relations.

Talks on security, business

The White House says both security and business will be up for discussion during the visit.

Nigeria is entering its ninth year fighting Boko Haram extremists, who have devastated the northeast of the country and killed over 20,000 people in a bloody quest to establish an Islamist state.

Trump's administration has agreed to the sale of a dozen A-29 Super Tucano turboprop light attack aircraft for use in the fight against the jihadist group, a deal worth a reported $496 million.

In January 2017, then-president Barack Obama froze the deal after Nigeria's air force bombed a refugee camp, killing more than 100 people, on a mission against Boko Haram.

Washington is now ready to allow the sale to go forward. But it has come under scrutiny inside Nigeria, where lawmakers are accusing the president of illegally withdrawing funds to purchase the planes.

Nigeria is also seeking support for its farm and transport sectors. Buhari is scheduled to meet with potential investors in Nigerian farming and food processing.

Amid intensifying competition with China and Europeans for the business of oil-rich Nigeria, officials accompanying Buhari also will be meeting with aviation giant Boeing, according to his office.

On Friday, General Electric announced that an international consortium it leads has signed a deal for a $2 billion project to refurbish Nigeria's narrow-gauge railway.

Both sides have something to gain from the meeting of the two presidents, Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, told AFP.

"On President Trump's side, it's definitely putting that controversy behind him," Pham said, referring to the "shithole countries" remark.

For Buhari, who will seek reelection in 2019, "It's having the prominence of being the first African leader received at the White House in this administration," Pham said.

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