Jan 21, 2023 - World

Yellen honors U.S.-Africa bond at historic site of slave trade

Janet Yellen with Goree mayor

Yellen receives an award diploma of Gorée's Great Pilgrim from Gorée Mayor Augustin Senghor. Photo: Seyllou/AFP via Getty Images

DAKAR, Senegal — On a trip to Gorée Island, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen condemned the horrors of human bondage while honoring the suffering and spirit of enslaved Africans — as well as their descendants in the United States.

Why it matters: Yellen used the visit to the "House of Slaves" memorial to emphasize the central theme of her 10-day trip: Africa and the U.S. are intimately linked.

  • It's an argument she has already delivered in Senegal under the shade of an Acacia tree in a dusty village and in the colonial grandeur of the presidential palace. It's one she'll repeat in Zambia and South Africa.

What they're saying: "I can’t help but think about the unspeakable cruelty of those who engaged in the slave trade," Yellen said.

  • "In the United States, what is remarkable is how many African American men and women overcame the odds,” she said.
  • "With remembrance, I believe, can come progress and renewal," she said.

The big picture: The overarching goal of Yellen's trip is to convince business leaders, presidents and everyday Africans that the United States is committed to partnering with Africans as equals.

  • While China’s presence and influence in Africa cannot be avoided, Yellen doesn’t want to pressure any countries into an either-or decision.
  • "This is not a competition with China," Yellen said in Dakar on Saturday, in response to a U.S. reporter’s question about Chinese and Russian leaders also hopscotching in the continent.
  • African governments “don't want to have to choose which countries they're going to become involved with,” she said.

The intrigue: Yellen’s trip is the first of many conspicuous U.S. visits, including one scheduled by President Biden later this year.

  • More trips — to different countries — will be announced in the coming months, including a visit by Vice President Kamala Harris and Wally Adeyemo, the Nigerian-born deputy Treasury secretary.

Be smart: For Yellen’s tour, no town is too small. On Saturday afternoon, she traveled to a village off a dirt road — and off the electricity grid — to shovel concrete to stabilize new transmission lines, part of a project financed by the Export-Import Bank.

  • Speaking to approximately 200 villagers over the sound of bleating goats, Yellen promised that the U.S. was "a partner and friend for the long haul."
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