US First lady Jill Biden speaks, Jan. 25, 2023, in Washington. The first lady will visit Namibia and Kenya this week as part of a push by the United States to step up engagement with Africa as a counterweight to China s influence on the continent, the White House announced Tuesday. AP
The first senior White House official to visit the region since her husband President Joe Biden came to power, the 71-year-old community college professor will focus on hunger in the Horn of Africa and the empowerment of women and youth.
The trip aims to build on the US-African Leaders Summit in Washington in December, when the president focused on food and global warming as well as preparing for the next global health crisis after the Covid-19 outbreak.
"The world faces major challenges including stresses caused by climate change, the lingering impact of the pandemic and the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine for food security and our shared values," an official said.
"We believe African governments and people will and must be at the table for these consequential discussions. We can't succeed without African participation and leadership."
Biden opens the five-day tour in Namibia on Wednesday and will meet the first ladies of both countries.
In Kenya, she will draw attention to the Horn of Africa's worst drought in decades, which has left more than 20 million people with acute food shortages.
Her fact-finding mission will look at how climate change, compounded by the blocking of food exports during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are worsening the crisis, officials said.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the youngest and fastest growing region in the world, with almost 70 percent of its people aged under 30. Experts project that a quarter of the global population will be African by 2050.
China in the past decade has surpassed the United States on investing in the continent via highly visible infrastructure projects, often funded through loans that have totaled more than $120 billion since the start of the century.
China denies US accusations it is imposing a "debt trap" in Africa and in turn has accused Washington of turning the continent into a geopolitical battlefield.
Officials said however the first lady was not expected to focus on the US-China rivalry during the visit.
"The purpose of the trip is to reaffirm the US government's investments in Africa -- not just in their governments, but in their people," an official said.