It is the highest-level visit to date for the Trump administration and comes after derogatory comments by U.S. President Donald Trump in January outraged leaders around the continent.
Complicating Tillersons mission is the vulgarity that Trump used about Africa during a White House meeting in January with USA lawmakers.
"We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese "dollars" from Africa".
Chris Alden, China expert at the London School of Economics and the SA Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, said, 'I don't think I have heard such a sympathetic tone to discussing China's role in Africa out of U.S. officialdom.' Though this was of course qualified by the criticism of China for resource exploitation and saddling Africa with debts - and Waldhauser's security concerns about Djibouti.
"The President himself wrote a personal letter to the chairperson, reaffirming the importance of this relationship from the standpoint of all aspects that I covered in answering a previous question", he said.
"Good governance and transparency are essential to creating the conditions for economic growth and prosperity, and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts with the African Union to improve the business environment on the continent".
He was also scheduled to visit tiny Djibouti, host to sprawling U.S., French and Chinese military bases.
"The goal of my trip to this continent is to listen", Tillerson said Thursday.
"And see where there is good alignment between their priorities and our areas of greatest interest as well".
Trump hasnt announced a signature initiative to aid Africans, such as the PEPFAR program for HIV/AIDS that President George W. Bush started, and many of Trumps budget cuts affect overseas programs that disproportionately help Africa. During the transition, mentions of the continent seemed largely in the context of cutting some signature US programs.
This marks his first diplomatic trip to Africa, which has become increasingly reliant on China for trade as China has outpaced the U.S.to become its largest trading partner in 2009.
Ultimately, however, the main theme of the trip may be one of security.
"Kenya calls on the U.S. to strongly consider the proposal made to have a surge operation in Jubba Valley region, which was made nearly three years ago, in order to root out al-Shabaab", President Kenyatta said. Aside from the announcement of more than $500 million of food and medical aid to fight starvation in several countries on the continent, made before he left, he has tamped down expectations for big announcements or new initiatives during the visit.
Tillerson revealed a series of new intiatives to enhance economic and humanitarian cooperation between the United States and Africa on Monday. At this point, the United States risks falling behind.
"Chinese investment does have the potential to address Africa's infrastructure gap, but its approach has led to mounting debt and few, if any, jobs in most countries", he warned.
Speaking in Ethiopia, Tillerson advised African countries to "carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty".
He also solicited African support in pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.