In a mountainous camp for displaced Congolese, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley wrapped her arm around an inconsolable woman who recounted being raped twice.
"It only makes me more passionate, it makes me more determined," Haley told a small group of reporters traveling with her during her first trip to Africa. "I'll carry the voices of the women that I met and things that they said." Dispatched by President Donald Trump to Ethiopia, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, Haley's trip was one of the first tangible signs of interest in Africa by the nine-month old administration.
Her challenge: how to show the United States is actively engaged in Africa, where humanitarian and political crises are often overshadowed by more urgent conflicts elsewhere and at the same time honor Trump's avowed "America First" policy which puts US economic and national interests ahead of international commitments.
As Africa struggles to win Trump's interest, US policy is more likely to be increasingly focused on countering militant threats. Washington also has a financial interest at stake as it tries to cut UN peacekeeping costs, for which it pays more than a quarter.
Trump has made a point of saying he would not impose US values on others, raising concerns among activists that human rights issues could take a backseat.
Nowhere is that more in focus than in Niger where a deadly ambush killed four U.S. troops who were there to assist local Nigerian forces fighting a local Islamic State affiliate this month. At the same time, Washington has mostly turned a blind eye to the increasingly authoritarian moves of Niger's former opposition leader, now president Mahamadou Issoufou, as it tries to stop the militant threat from expanding. Haley, a former governor of the U.S. state of South Carolina, was the most senior member of Trump's administration to travel to the three sub-Saharan states in a trip that showed how she balances her political skills with her nascent foreign policy and diplomacy experience.
She was moved to tears after visiting displaced Congolese in Kitchanga in the conflict-ravaged east of the country. In Ethiopia's Gambella region, she kicked off her shoes and sat down on the floor to play with South Sudanese toddlers.
"Those kids will be 18 one day," Haley told a small group of reporters during her trip. "They will be an uneducated adult with no social skills that will have resented the fact that they were put in that situation and that's dangerous for the United States and that's dangerous for the world."