Former Secretary of State speaks at Mason

Editor’s note: At the time of the event, former Sec. Rex Tillerson still held his position. He was fired on March 13. Tillerson will be replaced by Mike Pompeo, who was the C.I.A. Director. Pompeo’s position will be replaced by Gina Haspel, upon confirmation by the Senate. 


By Alexander Shedd, News Assistant Editor 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke in Mason’s Harris Theater on Tuesday, March 6.

Tillerson, who is preparing for his diplomatic tour of Africa, delivered a brief speech on the state of U.S. relations in Africa. The secretary gave an overview of U.S. foreign policy in African nations, which includes finding “long-term diplomatic solutions” to issues faced by African countries.

A major point of the secretary’s speech was the threat of terrorism in Africa.

“The long reach of terrorism threatens to steal the lives of countless individuals,” Tillerson said. He believes, however, that “the United States’ role in [anti-terrorism] efforts is to build capacity, not dependency.”

Tillerson also announced that the U.S. would be delegating an additional $530 million to assistance for food, clean water, education and more in Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Chad. Tillerson added that the Trump administration wants to “deepen [their] partnerships” with African countries to make them “more resilient and self-sufficient.”

Tillerson, formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, also remarked that the U.S. should be helping to tap Africa’s “vast, undeveloped natural resources” to “bring more Africans out of poverty” by “contributing to economic prosperity.”

“Nations in Africa need to do more,” he added, referring to limiting the role of the U.S. in direct assistance.

Following the speech, Tillerson sat down onstage with Mason President Ángel Cabrera to answer questions submitted by students in the audience. Tillerson stressed the importance of travelling abroad, as well as the role of women in world governance and society.

“It’s important that we support women’s health, first, and their capacity to participate in the economic wellbeing of their country,” he stated. “Secondly, not just putting women into the workforce, but into governance.”

The secretary’s trip comes in the wake of President Trump claiming in graphic language that the U.S. does not want immigrants from particular African nations. The remarks sent shockwaves through diplomatic relations between the U.S. and many African countries. Tillerson did not address these remarks at Mason, but he will visit Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria over the weeklong tour.

Photos by Alexander Shedd