Dakar, Senegal - U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has begun a 10-day trip to Africa to discuss economic growth strategies and to reaffirm America's commitment to strengthening ties with the continent. She began her trip with a visit to a U.S.-funded business incubator for youth and women in Dakar, Senegal.
As the first female U.S. treasury secretary, Yellen got a warm round of applause from the businesswomen at Friday's meeting.
In a speech following the visit, Yellen emphasized America's intention to expand trade and investment in Africa.
"The United States is all in on Africa, and all in with Africa," she said. "And our engagement is not transactional. It's not for show. And it's not for the short term."
Aisha Diallo works as the office manager at the Délégation générale à l'Entrepreneuriat Rapide des Femmes et des Jeunes, a women and youth business incubator in Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 20, 2023.
Yellen's trip comes on the heels of last month's U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where President Joe Biden committed $55 billion in economic, health and security aid to the continent over the next three years.
Several members of the Biden administration, such as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Climate Envoy John Kerry, have already traveled to Africa. President Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also have plans to visit.
U.S. engagement with Africa took a backseat during the Trump administration. Meanwhile, Beijing was investing billions in African infrastructure projects and becoming Africa's largest trading partner, while Russian-backed paramilitary forces fanned out across the continent.
Yellen's visit sends a clear message that the U.S. is ready to compete.
Africa is home to some of the world's largest mineral reserves, which will be critical for the Biden administration's plans to promote clean energy.
Sarah Danzman, an international studies professor at Indiana University Bloomington, summed up the purpose of Yellen's Africa visit.
"The U.S. wants to emphasize that U.S. investment is a better and more reliable way to deliver widely shared growth and prosperity across the continent," she said, "precisely because it is transparent, aligned with values of democracy and human rights, and also tied to governance reforms to reduce corruption."
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen attends a roundtable with women entrepreneurs at a women and youth business incubator in Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 20, 2023.
That's a stark contrast to the Chinese model of investment, which has prioritized quick construction and resource extraction over good governance requirements, she added.
While in Senegal, Yellen will also tour the former slave trading post of Goree Island and meet with Senegalese President and head of the African Union Macky Sall, as well as ministers of finance and economy.
Yellen plans to discuss infrastructure projects, pandemic preparedness, democracy strengthening and anti-corruption partnerships. She'll also highlight the steps the U.S. has taken to counter the spillover effects of Russia's war in Ukraine by means of food security assistance.
"Russia's war and weaponization of food has exacerbated food insecurity and caused untold suffering," Yellen said. "And with global economic headwinds caused by the actions of a single man, President Putin is creating an unnecessary drag on Africa's economy."
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at a women and youth business incubator in Dakar, Senegal, Jan. 20, 2023.
Yellen also acknowledged Africa's susceptibility to the climate crisis, noting that 17 of the world's top 20 climate-vulnerable countries are African.
She announced U.S. plans to expand partnerships with Africa on conservation, climate adaptation and access to clean energy, and noted Biden's intentions to provide over $1 billion to support African-led climate resilience efforts.
Yellen acknowledged America's contribution to the construction of West Africa's largest wind farm, located just outside Dakar.
On Saturday she'll attend the groundbreaking of a U.S.-financed rural electrification project that's being led by an American engineering firm.
After Senegal, Yellen will continue her trip with stops in Zambia and South Africa.