Questions on Africa for Secretary of State Designate Rex Tillerson

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Rex Tillerson, the President of the Exxon Mobil Corporation, to be the next Secretary of State. On Wednesday January 11, 2017, Mr. Tillerson will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will later vote on whether or not to recommend his confirmation to the full Senate.

It is expected that the senators will concentrate at the outset on Mr. Tillerson’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil has invested heavily in oil and gas fields in the Russian Arctic. The senators will want to know if Tillerson’s special and close relations with the Russian leadership could cause problems for US policy toward Russia after he becomes Secretary of State.

Assuming there will be some time remaining after the Committee exhausts the problem of the Russian relationship, some of the Senators may wish to question Mr. Tillerson about his views on US-Africa relations. Here are some questions about Africa that the senators might consider asking:

1. Economic development in sub-Saharan Africa is lagging significantly behind the rest of the world. What do you think the current generation of African leaders should be emphasizing?

2. You have extensive business experience in Africa. What recommendations would you have for US policy? Is there anything new that the US Government could do to encourage policy reform in Africa?

3. Do you believe that the United States should insist on democracy in Africa as the key element of policy?

My personal recommendation to Secretary designate Tillerson, as an international business executive with vast experience investing in Africa, is that he should emphasize the importance of a strong private sector on the continent. He should recommend to today’s generation of African leaders that the creation of a welcoming environment for private investors, especially those in the African business community, will be crucial for the creation of wealth and the expansion of the African middle class. 

With respect to the promotion of democracy in Africa, Mr. Tillerson should emphasize that the growth of irreversible democracy is a long process that cannot happen overnight. While helping to promote democratic institutions, the United States should encourage African leaders to practice good governance to ensure that government revenues and resources are distributed in a transparent and fair manner.

(Image: William Munoz)