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First leg of Tillerson's Africa tour proves awkward

Tillerson
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat on March 8. Photo by JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Ethiopia visiting the headquarters of the African Union Thursday, the first stop on his five-country tour of the continent. Per the NY Times, Tillerson's trip thus far, much like his recent visit to Latin America, has been marked by tense exchanges and calls to answer for the "shithole countries" remark Trump reportedly made in January.

Why it matters: Trump's unpredictability and inflammatory comments (including about Tillerson) haven't made representing the U.S. abroad any easier, particularly with global approval of U.S. leadership plummeting under his administration.

Awkward moments, per the NYTimes:

  • Wearing his signature "tight smile," Tillerson responded to a reporters' question about Trump's "shithole" remarks as best he could: “The United States' commitment to Africa is quite clear in terms of the importance we place on the relationship.”
  • Tillerson also railed against China, despite the fact that Chinese investments in Ethiopia total about $3.5 billion more than the U.S. in recent years. Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, responded, "I think Africans are mature enough to engage in partnerships of their own volition."
  • Tillerson is also staying at the same hotel as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but the pair reportedly have no plans to meet. Trolling Tillerson on Facebook, the Russian Embassy in Washington wrote, "This would be a great opportunity to discuss a range of accumulated issues on regional and global agenda not through the press, but directly.”

Go deeper on Ethiopia: The world's fastest growing economy, in one of its poorest nations

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