WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden 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.
President Joe Biden told African leaders who came to Washington for a summit last year that the U.S. is “all in” on the continent’s future. He also announced that he, his wife, the vice president and several members of his Cabinet would travel to Africa this year, and joked that the leaders would get tired of hosting everyone.
Jill Biden is the third U.S. official to visit, following Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
The first lady will highlight issues around empowering women and young people and food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, the White House said. She will also focus on deepening U.S. relations with the two countries that are hosting her.
She was opening the five-day visit Wednesday in Namibia, becoming the most senior U.S. official to land there since a brief stop by Vice President Al Gore in 1996, the White House said.
Through renewed engagement with the countries of Africa, the U.S. aims to catch up with its economic rival, China, which has outpaced the U.S. in terms of trade in some of the 54 nations on the continent, the second most-populous continent.
Trade between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa totaled $44.9 billion in 2021, a 22% increase from 2019. But direct investment fell by 5.3% to $30.3 billion. Trade between Africa and China in 2021 surged to $254 billion, up about 35% as Chinese exports increased to the continent.
Jill Biden is no stranger to Africa. The trip will be her sixth to the continent, her third time in Kenya and her first visit to Namibia.
It will also be her fourth trip abroad without the president in the two years since he took office.
She traveled to Tokyo in 2021 to cheer Team USA at the delayed Olympic Games.
For Mother’s Day last year, she traveled to Romania and Slovakia to meet with Ukrainian women who fled with their children after Russia’s military invasion. The trip included a clandestine drive across Slovakia’s border a short distance into western Ukraine, where she spent several hours meeting with Olena Zalenska, the wife of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Jill Biden also traveled solo to Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama in 2022.
She has accompanied her husband on trips to Europe and Mexico, where he participated in summit meetings with other world leaders.
President Biden is widely expected to visit Africa later this year, though the White House has not announced his travel dates. He was in Poland on Tuesday following a surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday to meet with Zelenskyy.