What's Ivanka Trump really doing in Africa?
While her father was preoccupied with sod-turning ceremonies for building walls that would keep the world as far from the US as possible, special adviser Ivanka Trump had other ideas.
She visited two “s***hole” African countries to promote investment in women. One wonders what Ivanka would have told her father and boss, President Donald Trump. How did she persuade him that it was a good idea to visit the place worthy of nothing but disdain?
Be not deceived. The two countries visited by daddy’s little girl were not randomly picked. Ivory Coast and Ethiopia are among Africa’s foremost economies, judging by what they have been doing in the past 12 months. Instead of dismissing Ivanka’s visit as hypocrisy, like Arwa Mahdawi in her piece for The Guardian, let us remember that capitalism is hypocritical.
Mahdawi slams the US’s first daughter, the “patron saint of nepotists, hypocrites and grifters” who “has altruistically taken her talents on tour costing taxpayers $64.6 million”. Not so fast!
With Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Opic) acting president David Bohigian in tow, Ivanka made two stops in countries that produce what America needs and consumes a lot of - coffee (Ethiopia) and cocoa (Ivory Coast). Ethiopia gave US coffee shop franchise Starbucks a few bruises a decade ago. Starbucks tried what most multinational corporations are wont to do: exploit Africa’s resources without giving due credit and commensurate financial compensation. The intellectual rights dispute was resolved in 2007.
The trip might as well be part of economic diplomacy with Africa’s major influencer under its young prime minister, Abiy Ahmed.
Ivory Coast is the world’s top producer of cocoa. Together with two of its west African neighbours, Nigeria and Ghana, they are three of the top four global cocoa producers.
Ivory Coast is the hub of Francophone Africa. It is home to the headquarters of the African Development Bank and the Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières SA, a regional stock exchange for companies in Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
That is a massive market in a massive Economic Community of West African States, which includes Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria.
There is, therefore, more to Ivanka’s visit than we reckon. Bringing the US government’s development finance institution, Opic, along was not a coincidence.
The US is the largest economy in the world, but is losing its ground to China. China is reputed for using its state-owned enterprises to dominate the new scramble for Africa. ICBC, 20% shareholder in Standard Bank, is one example, with China National Offshore Oil Corporation, China Construction Bank and more.
The US is not going to hand over the last economic frontier to China without a fight. Ever the master of economic sleight of hand, this is but one of its ways to keep Africa close to the US - by focusing on the most topical issue in the world: women empowerment.
We talk endlessly about women empowerment, Washington is deploying its rather unlikely agent to capture our key economies: Ivanka.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.