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Blinken to refocus on Africa as Russia, China make gains

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a speech during a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on January 17, 2024
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a speech during a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on January 17, 2024 - Copyright AFP Fabrice COFFRINI
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a speech during a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on January 17, 2024 - Copyright AFP Fabrice COFFRINI

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit sub-Saharan Africa for the first time in 10 months, the State Department said Thursday, redirecting his focus as rivals Russia and China seek gains there.

After four frenetic tours of the Middle East since war broke out on October 7 with a Hamas attack on Israel, Blinken will visit Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Angola and Cape Verde starting Monday.

Blinken will discuss economic growth  and “advance security partnerships based on shared values such as respect for human rights, promotion of democracy and expansion of the rule of law,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

On Blinken’s last visit to sub-Saharan Africa, he became the highest-ranking US official ever to visit Niger, hoping to champion the fragile democracy, also a frontline country in the fight against Sahel jihadists.

Just four months later, the military deposed the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. Niger’s army-installed prime minister this week visited Russia for talks on boosting military cooperation.

Russia, through its powerful Wagner mercenary group, has also been active in Mali, the Central African Republic and allegedly Burkina Faso.

Ivory Coast has been among the most outspoken countries against the Niger coup, backing sanctions and with President Alassane Ouattara initially musing about joint West African military action to restore democracy.

Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy and home to the headquarters of West African regional bloc ECOWAS — has also opposed its neighbor’s coup.

Blinken will meet President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who took office last year with promises of economic reforms.

It is Blinken’s second visit as the top US diplomat to Nigeria, and he will stop both in the capital Abuja and the largest city Lagos.

US President Joe Biden, who vowed a new interest in Africa when he welcomed African leaders to Washington in December 2022, had promised to visit in 2023 but did not do so, and a trip is seen as increasingly unlikely this year as he focuses on reelection.

– Weary on Ukraine, Mideast –

Even before the Middle East crisis, in which the United States has been nearly isolated in its staunch support of Israel, many in Africa had watched uneasily as the West devoted billions of dollars to Ukraine in its fight against a Russian invasion.

Continental powerhouse South Africa, which Blinken is not visiting, has clashed with the United States, with Washington criticizing Pretoria of allowing weapons to pass to Russia and later criticizing its filing of genocide allegations against Israel before the International Court of Justice.

Blinken will arrive in Ivory Coast on Monday, days after a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

While US-China tensions have eased, Washington considers Beijing its top long-term rival and has pitched itself as a better partner for Africa than Beijing, whose speciality is major infrastructure projects financed through loans.

The United States has been developing closer relations with Angola, a major oil producer, since its transition to democracy, after supporting UNITA rebels in the country’s decades of civil war.

Angola last month exited the OPEC oil cartel over a disagreement on a decision, backed by Saudi Arabia, to cut production to boost prices — a potential concern for Biden as he heads into election season.

Leftist strongman Jose Eduardo dos Santos retired in 2017 after 38 years in power and the United States has worked closely with his successor Joao Lourenco.

Angola, along with close US ally Kenya, has worked to broker an end to fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which accuses Rwanda of backing rebels there.

Blinken saluted Angolan efforts when he met Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

AFP
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