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Last Friday (hmmm…), the State Department announced that Secretary Kerry will travel to sub-Saharan Africa April 29-May 5, his first visit to the sub-continent as Secretary of State. First stop is Addis Ababa to meet with the African Union and the Ethiopian government “to discuss efforts to advance peace and democracy in the region”. Next up is Kinshasa to “discuss how the DRC government’s progress in neutralizing some of the dozens of dangerous armed groups that victimize the Congolese people can be consolidated and how to best advance the DRC’s democratization and long-term stability.” Last stop is Luanda to “commend President dos Santos for Angola’s leadership of…the Great Lakes peace process.”

I’ll be very keen to see how the trip actually unfolds and reactions from African capitals, but here are my three pre-trip reactions:

  1. The agenda is very security-heavy. The country choice and the main points of the press release make it clear this trip is primarily about conflict and human rights.
  1. The agenda is development-light. Regardless of what the Secretary hopes to accomplish, leaders in each country will want to talk about trade, investment, and economic growth. I’d expect plenty of questions about Power Africa, the White House effort to boost electricity. (Ethiopia is the only country Kerry will visit that is formally part of the initiative, but I’d expect energy generation and access to come up on every stop.) Other related issues on their minds will be AGOA trade provisions, ways to boost US development finance, and the dearth of bilateral investment treaties (Angola is a natural candidate).
  1. An incomplete set-up for President Obama. The White House will host a colossal Heads of State summit in Washington DC August 5-6, with 40+ leaders expected to attend. It will be the capstone for the President’s Africa policy. The final themes of the summit are still being finalized, but they are likely to be around security, infrastructure investment, and youth engagement. Africa policy watchers here and on the continent will use the Kerry trip as a preview for the summit, especially as a signal for how far the United States has come in modernizing its approach. Finger-wagging and old-style aid programs will not play well. They’ll be looking for genuine partnerships around mutual interests and economic opportunities.