The U.S. Pentagon began an official six-day visit to Djibouti, Kenya, and Angola.
United States Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin III, aims to "discuss ongoing military cooperation, regional security challenges, and opportunities for further collaboration," according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
As the 78th UN General Assembly high-level week scheduled for 19 to 23 and 26 September, draws to a close, the 28th U.S. Secretary of Defence, who also serves as the Principal Assistant to President Joseph Biden in all matters relating to the Department of Defence and serves on the White House National Security Council--began an official six-day visit to Djibouti, Kenya, and Angola.
In a press statement issued on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Defence confirmed his travel which is expected to last from 23 to 28 September. "This visit underscores the U.S. Department of Defence's commitment to strengthening partnerships and enhancing regional security on the African continent," the Department of Defence (DoD) press statement said.
Premium Times has previously--on 6 June 2023--asked the U.S. Secretary of the U.S. Army responsible for all global matters related to the U.S. Army including in Africa, Christine Wormuth, why the U.S. Pentagon chief had yet to make an official travel to Africa. President Biden had been clear at the U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit held in December 2022 that he wanted to increase engagement with Africa. Although other cabinet-level Biden administration officials have already made trips to Africa, Secretary Austin had yet to visit the broader continent, apart from Egypt.
In Djibouti, Secretary Austin is scheduled to have meetings "with senior Djiboutian officials to discuss ongoing military cooperation, regional security challenges, and opportunities for further collaboration," said DoD.
Djibouti's Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mahamoud Youssouf, was among leaders at the 78th UN General Assembly General Debate, who voiced concerns in his 23 September address about increasing mistrust. He said that contrary to working towards promoting a global, unified multilateralism system, there is a proneness to "group together into clubs," said Mahamoud Ali Youssouf. On regional issues, he said he highlighted the conflict in Somalia with Al-Shabaab. Terrorism and regional conflicts by armed groups like Al-Shabaan are likely to be high on Secretary Austin's agenda during the visit, not only with Djiboutian officials but also in Kenya and Angola.
In Kenya, Secretary Austin is scheduled "to engage with Kenyan defence officials on shared security interests and counter-terrorism efforts," confirmed the DoD. "During his trip, Secretary Austin will also visit with U.S. military personnel deployed to Djibouti and Kenya, reiterating the Department's appreciation and gratitude for their service and dedication to promoting peace and security in the region," said the DoD.
At UNGA, Kenya's President William Ruto highlighted the "failure of peace and security systems," as a concern confirmed UN Affairs, at the conclusion of his high-level debate address on 21 September. "If any confirmation was ever needed that the United Nations Security Council is dysfunctional, undemocratic, non-inclusive, unrepresentative and therefore incapable of delivering meaningful progress in our world as presently constituted, the rampant impunity of its actors on the global scene settles the matter," President Ruto stressed.
The Pentagon chief's visit to Kenya comes on the heels of positive outcomes by President Ruto at the 78th UNGA and meetings with the U.S. government. During the UN meetings, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the government of Kenya signed a $60 million Kenya threshold programme agreement designed to improve urban connectivity and promote economic growth in Kenya--the "largest and one of the most ambitious threshold programs that MCC has ever implemented with a partner country," said MCC's CEO, Alice Albright. President Ruto said it "marks an exciting milestone in the growing partnership between Kenya."
Before departing the U.S. at the end of UNGA, President Ruto met with Secretary Blinken who commended Kenya for its "significant contributions to global peace and stability" and "thanked Kenya for considering leadership of a multinational security support mission to Haiti, addressing the crisis in Sudan, promoting peace in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and countering extremism in Somalia."
Last month, the U.S. Department of State's Secretary Blinken applauded Kenya for considering to "serve as the lead nation for a multinational force in Haiti to assist in addressing insecurity caused by gang violence."
In Angola, Secretary Austin's "visit to Luanda will focus on building stronger defence relations and exploring avenues for increased military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Angola," confirmed the DoD. Secretary Austin will likely meet with Angola's President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço.
"One cannot fail to recognise that the gap between developing and developed countries remains an unacceptable reality," President Lourenço told UNGA world leaders on 20 September. On terrorism and existing tensions in the Great Lakes region, President Lourenço, highlighted in his UNGA address, the need for adequate and predictable funding for efforts to fight terrorism in Africa. He said, "We are increasingly convinced of the existence of an invisible hand interested in destabilising our continent, only concerned with expanding its sphere of influence," adding that the globe is worried about the crisis in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.
Previously, in a 10 August phone call between Secretary Austin and President Guelleh, "the strength of the U.S.-Djibouti defence partnership" was acknowledged and reiterated, according to the Pentagon. Secretary Austin highlighted "the critical role Djibouti played in enabling the safe evacuation of American personnel from Sudan in April," said Pentagon press secretary, Pat Ryder, a brigadier-general, in a press statement last month.
Additionally, the U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defence for Policy, Mara Karlin, and General Langley were in Djibouti on 17 and 18 August, the DoD spokesperson, Martin Meiners, a lieutenant colonel, said. Ms Karlin met with United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) leadership to discuss regional security issues. During that visit, on 17 August, Dr Karlin and US Marine Corps General, Michael Langley, who serves as the 6th Commander of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), met with Djibouti's President Guelleh "to reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Djibouti defense relationship," said Mr Meiners, and explained that "Karlin and Langley thanked President Guelleh for hosting U.S. forces for the last 20 years in furtherance of shared security interests. The two leaders discussed opportunities for the Department of Defence and Djibouti to strengthen cooperation and enable a more secure and prosperous East Africa".
In the last 12 to 18 months, high-ranking Biden administration officials who have made official travels to Africa, in follow up to Biden's U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit promise, are Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Jill Biden, cabinet-level secretaries - Antony Blinken (State Department) and Janet Yellen (Treasury) - and U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. Mr General Langley's first trip in his tenure was to Angola, and he has since travelled to Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Kenya, Niger, Morocco, Tunisia, Zambia, and most recently, Libya.
Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based White House Correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe