Trump fired America’s top diplomat during his first official visit to Africa

Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/Files
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This story has been updated.

Rex Tillerson’s first trip to Africa as US secretary of state has also turned out to be his final one.

President Donald Trump was initially reported to have asked Tillerson to step aside sometime last Friday (March 9), after he had arrived in Kenya from Djibouti. But Steve Goldstein, the Department of State’s spokesperson, claims Tillerson “did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason” for his firing. Meanwhile, NBC News reports that Tillerson only found out about his firing today on Twitter. CIA director Mike Pompeo has been nominated to become the new secretary of state.

On March 1, the Department of State had announced that Tillerson was to visit five countries in Africa—Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria—from March 6 to 13 to discuss counter-terrorism, trade, and investment, among other things.

Tillerson conspicuously canceled his scheduled events in Kenya on Saturday (March 10) with officials saying that he was “not feeling well after a long couple days working on major issues back home such as North Korea.”

On Sunday (March 11), Tillerson laid a wreath at the August 7th Memorial Park, which commemorates the suicide truck bombing at the US embassy, which killed more than 200 people in 1998. On Monday (March 13), after official meetings in Chad and Nigeria, Tillerson cut his Africa trip short a day early to go back Washington.

While it was meant as a trip to advance the United States’ interests, Tillerson’s trip was somewhat dominated by China and China’s ascendant role in Africa. On the eve of the trip, Tillerson criticized China’s model of economic diplomacy in Africa, claiming it ”endangers Africa’s natural resources and its long-term economic political stability.” When he landed in Ethiopia as part of his five-country tour, he also warned African nations against forfeiting their sovereignty and suggested they should “carefully consider” the terms of their agreements with China.

Amid the disarray of the trip, there was a ray of hope for one African country: While in Chad, Tillerson said the US is considering lifting a travel ban on the country, given improvements made to its travel security.