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First leg of Tillerson's Africa tour proves awkward

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

Haley Britzky 3 hours ago
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Russia continues pointing fingers after ex-spy poisoning

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses with medalists of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games
Russian President Vladimir Putin poses with medalists of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov / AFP / Getty Images

It's become relatively understood with world leaders that Russia probably poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal.

The bigger picture: The U.S. has said so, the E.U. recently voiced support for the U.K. in saying so; the only person who won't say is Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Kremlin has "spread a flurry of theories" to explain the nerve-agent attack, with "one common theme: It was anyone but Russia."

Zachary Basu 13 hours ago
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What to watch for in Egypt's sham election

Sisi billboard
A billboard in Cairo voicing support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the upcoming election. Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images.

Egyptians will vote March 26-28 in a presidential election that is sure to see incumbent strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi handily defeat Mousa Mostafa Mousa — the sole challenger who hasn't been jailed or intimidated into dropping out.

The backdrop: Sisi, the former minister of defense and commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, led a military coup to topple President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. He formally came to power in 2014 after winning 96% of the vote in the presidential election, but has since seen his popularity wane under deteriorating economic conditions and an oppressive human rights record.