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VP Harris Ends Africa Tour With Personal Stop in Zambia

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, second right, is greeted by traditional dancers after landing in Lusaka, Zambia, March 31, 2023.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, second right, is greeted by traditional dancers after landing in Lusaka, Zambia, March 31, 2023.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA — Vice President Kamala Harris landed Friday in Zambia, the final stop on her weeklong tour of the continent.

While there, she discussed debt restructuring with that nation’s president and announced a range of private-sector commitments worth more than $7 billion, aimed at supporting climate resilience, adaptation and mitigation.

But for Harris, this stop was a special one – she visited the southern African nation as a young girl, when her grandfather was stationed here as an Indian diplomat.

“A homecoming” is how Zambia's president described Friday's visit by Harris, as he led her through the lush grounds of the presidential palace where zebras, giraffes and peacocks roamed.

Harris, too, basked in nostalgia as she made an unannounced stop at a property in central Lusaka — now occupied by a modern, nondescript office compound — where records show her grandfather once lived.

But this two-day stop at the tail end of her Africa tour also involved a difficult subject — the landlocked but copper-rich nation was the first African nation to default on its sovereign debt when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. On Friday, President Hakainde Hichilema appealed to Harris for U.S. help in restructuring the debt, which is nearing $15 billion.

“What is keeping us down for now, Vice President, is the debt overhang,” he said. “We carry a debt burden that really is making it difficult for us to continue with our restructuring process of the economy. And it's actually beginning to negate on the gains we've already made, such as in the foreign exchange market.

“And the earlier we resolve this matter, the better, and we ask for your support, as always, and the support of others to deal with that. And we know when we unlock the debt, more investments will come, and we know that when more investments come, we will create jobs for our young people.”

Harris announced a range of private- and public-sector commitments, covering anti-corruption efforts, economic and democratic reforms, agriculture and more. And she supported his call for restructuring the debt, most of which is owed to Chinese lenders.

“We will continue to advocate for speedy finalization of Zambia's debt treatment and the restructuring, and we have talked extensively about that,” she said. “Our administration believes the international community needs to help countries such as Zambia regain their footing. So I will reiterate a call I have made many times for all bilateral official creditors to provide a meaningful debt reduction for Zambia.”

Her visit to Zambia also includes a trip to a farm outside Lusaka and a meeting with entrepreneurs. Throughout this weeklong trip that took her across the continent, Harris has reflected publicly on the historic ties between Africa and the U.S.

She spoke of the evils of slavery — and the importance of teaching accurate history, even when it is painful — after she toured the slave dungeons in Ghana's infamous Cape Coast Castle. And she spoke proudly of President John F. Kennedy’s historic meeting with the man considered the father of modern Tanzania, its first president, Julius Nyerere.

But Zambia was personal, and the work of her grandfather — who served as an adviser to Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, in the 1960s — influenced her own trajectory to the highest office ever occupied by an American woman.

“He cared deeply about freedom and independence,” she said of her grandfather. “And I was the eldest grandchild and so I got the benefit and the blessing of a lot of time with him as a young child, where he would really talk about that. …

“He believed in the nobility of public service. He believed in fighting corruption. These are things we would talk about a lot, and I don't think until I was older I realized how that just subconsciously influenced the way I think in very strong ways.”