The Biden administration is dispatching Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, to Nigeria next week as it seeks to deepen economic ties with Africa and counter China’s influence on the continent.
The visit comes as Nigeria’s new president, Bola Tinubu, is embarking on reforms to revive his country’s sluggish economy and months after President Biden pledged to deepen the United States’ involvement with Africa with an investment of more than $50 billion over the next three years. The United States has been trying to make up lost ground in the geopolitical contest with China and Russia to cultivate relations in Africa.
Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest economy, is key to those efforts. The Biden administration believes Nigeria, a democracy that is rich with natural resources, has the potential to be an economic anchor for the United States on the continent.
Several Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, have visited Nigeria during Mr. Biden’s first term. However, Mr. Adeyemo is a unique emissary: He was born in Ibadan, one of Nigeria’s largest cities, and emigrated with his family to California when he was 2 years old.
The trip will be Mr. Adeyemo’s first time going back to Nigeria in decades, he said, and he will be returning as the highest-ranking member of the African diaspora in the Biden administration. His ascension to the top ranks of the U.S. government has been watched with joy in Nigeria in recent years.
“It’s one of those opportunities to go to a place that means a lot to me personally, but also to go to a place that means a lot to me professionally, just given that Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy with a huge demographic boom,” Mr. Adeyemo said in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s just a great chance for me to talk about how we can deepen the economic relationship and the strategic relationship at a moment when Nigeria has a government that’s already taken really important steps in terms of economic reform.”
While in Lagos, Mr. Adeyemo plans to meet with government officials and executives from the technology, entertainment and finance sectors. He also plans to meet with American companies that operate in Nigeria and visit a local project that has received financing from the U.S. government.
The Biden administration views Nigeria as an opportunity because of its large population of young workers. Nigeria’s government has tried to make the country more attractive to foreign investors by easing currency controls and removing fuel subsidies, which have for years strained its public finances.
Mr. Adeyemo said that his message in Nigeria will be that “the United States wants to be your partner, not only to provide development assistance, but to think about how we deepen our investment and trade relationship.”
While he is there, Mr. Adeyemo plans to talk to Nigerian officials about tackling corruption and protecting the financial system from illicit finance risks. He will also encourage Nigerian officials to continue to pursue ways of diversifying the economy away from its reliance on petroleum and embracing renewable energy.
The outreach from the United States comes as Nigeria is grappling with the highest levels of inflation in nearly two decades and, like many African nations, a heavy debt burden.
According to government statistics, Nigeria owes more than $20 billion to international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It also owes $4.7 billion to China, which is Nigeria’s largest bilateral creditor.
The Biden administration has been pressuring China to offer debt relief to African countries. However, Nigeria has yet to seek debt relief through the “common framework” initiative that was established by the Group of 20 nations.
Biden administration officials have been careful to avoid explicitly characterizing U.S. interests in Africa in the context of competition with China. During a trip to South Africa last year, Mr. Blinken said the administration’s Africa strategy was not centered on rivalry with China and Russia. But a White House document on Mr. Biden’s strategy in sub-Saharan Africa released the same day said the effort to strengthen “open societies” was partly intended to “counter harmful activities” by China, Russia and “other foreign actors.”
Asked about China’s influence in Nigeria, Mr. Adeyemo underscored what the country shares with the United States and noted that both are large, multiethnic democracies with similar values. He pointed out that African countries are increasingly aware of China’s reluctance to restructure debt and that the United States is taking a different approach to its economic relationship with Nigeria.
“We’re talking about investment and foreign direct investment in Nigerian companies, in Nigerian infrastructure, in a way that allows Nigerians to be able to build a thriving economy that isn’t overly reliant on external debt,” Mr. Adeyemo said.