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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mourned the victims of the 1998 embassy bombings and lauded today's Kenya as a "thriving country" in a speech on Tuesday hours before the start of his week-long Africa safari.

While the top United States diplomat has a broad itinerary on his five-nation trip, Africa experts say Tillerson's planned stops in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria underscore the emphasis on security - and away from the traditional United States role as advocate and partner for good governance and development.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is "taking a little time off" for vacation following an extended trip to Europe and the Middle East, his spokeswoman said.

After more than a year in office, Trump has not nominated a chief USA diplomat for Africa, and embassies in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Africa and in five other African countries remain without ambassadors.

Without partnerships to build infrastructure and achieve more economic development, Tillerson warned there will be "new ways for terrorists to exploit the next generation."He said the administration is willing to collaborate with African countries to address the "drivers of conflict" and to build the "institutional law enforcement capacity of African nations".

Tillerson's words came just before his departure later on Tuesday for an 8-day tour of Africa.

In Djibouti, China's development of its first overseas military base just a few miles away has been cause for concern for the USA, illustrating the military side of a broader competition between the US and China playing out across the continent.

Tillerson will also visit Kenya, where the political system is in turmoil over disputes related to President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election. "That includes freedoms of expression and association, an independent press, a robust and engaged civil society, a government that is transparent and accountable to all of its citizens, and a fair and impartial judiciary", explained Tillerson to African representatives in Washington. But word emerged Tuesday that the administration would start approving elephant trophy importing on a "case-by-case" basis. Another $110 million was destined for Ethiopia to help amid a drought.

Though he has yet to visit as diplomat, Tillerson is not a stranger to Africa, which he visited frequently in search of deals in his previous job as CEO of Exxon Mobil.