In Africa, Blinken sees limits to US influence abroad

In Africa, Blinken sees limits to US influence abroad

Dakar Traveling through Africa, the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, saw firsthand the limits of America’s influence abroad.

Blinken faced authoritarianism, growing threats from newly revitalized extremists, and the persistent challenges posed by COVID-19 and climate change, all of which have stubbornly resisted various American interventions.

And nowhere on his three-nation tour last week – to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal – was he able to escape the clear signs of intense competition between the United States and China: a geopolitical power struggle that was largely playing in China’s favour. The past two decades, especially in Africa.

Before leaving the continent for his last stop in Senegal, Blinken said he was well received by the three leaders he met. But he allowed that “we have to judge what we do, not just what I say.”

The limits of Washington’s influence have been clear for some time but have been highlighted in recent months as President Joe Biden has promoted “America is Back,” intended to signal the United States’ return to the international arena and the institutions his predecessor shunned.


In Nairobi, most of the Secretary of State’s visit and across the Kenyan capital took place under or literally under a massive Chinese-funded elevated highway construction project.

In Abuja, Blinken’s motorcade from the airport passed the gigantic and unmissable headquarters building of the China Chamber of Commerce in Nigeria, where a senior official spoke only partly on the pretext of playing the US and China apart and China’s allure as a partner.

And in Senegal, the capital, Dakar, was preparing to host a major trade and investment event between China and Africa less than 10 days after Blinken’s departure on Saturday.

While the Biden administration’s efforts to help African countries combat the coronavirus pandemic and encourage climate-friendly policies appear to be making some initial progress, the broader picture is less encouraging.

A new wave of authoritarianism reversed some positive trends of democratization although public US calls and protests were ignored or only partially responded to by leaders in Ethiopia, Sudan and elsewhere, who seemed unconvinced or uninterested in the administration’s message.


“Governments are becoming less transparent,” Blinken said in the Nigerian capital on Friday. “We see this happening across Africa – leaders ignoring mandate limits, rigging or postponing elections, exploiting social grievances to gain and maintain power, arresting opposition figures, cracking down on the media, and allowing security services to brutally enforce pandemic restrictions.”

He cited Ethiopia and Sudan as prime examples.

While Blinken did not go to either country on his trip, he provoked crises at each of his stops, and as he traveled, senior US envoys visited Khartoum and Addis Ababa to pressure the authorities there to back down from anti-democratic measures.

However, despite the agreement in Sudan announced on Sunday after Blinken’s return to Washington, neither has resulted in unparalleled success.

In Sudan, talks between military leaders and the top US diplomat for Africa, Molly V, were followed by a new and deadly crackdown on opposition protesters that Blinken was forced to formally condemn in a statement.


In a hopeful gesture, ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok then signed a deal with the military that will restore him to office nearly a month after a military coup put him under house arrest. But a major pro-democracy group dismissed it as a “form of treason” and Blinken himself was cautious, saying he was “encouraged” but still wanted to see more.

“I urge all parties to conduct further talks and redouble efforts to complete key transitional tasks on a civilian-led path to democracy in Sudan,” Blinken said in a tweet. I also repeat our call to the security forces to refrain from using excessive force against peace. protesters.”

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rejected the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, in calls to end the humanitarian blockade of the northern region of Tigray, home to the rebels now advancing on the capital.

Meanwhile, persistent corruption, abuse of power, and a lack of transparency continue to hamper African infrastructure and US poverty alleviation and development initiatives.


And although Biden has talked about bringing Africa back into prominence in US foreign policy, other priorities and pressing developments, including urgency in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, have often seen it compete in the administration’s top ten. months in office.

On Friday, the White House announced that Biden will convene a US-Africa summit next year to “strengthen relations with African partners based on principles of mutual respect and shared interests and values.” But the announcement was limited to key details such as who will attend and when.

It came as Blinken arrived in Senegal, the third and final leg of his first official trip to sub-Saharan Africa, which was postponed from August, in a clear sign of the priorities, during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Whatever interest he absorbed in Washington, the fallout from the Afghan exit has left some of America’s friends, including in Africa, questioning the resilience of their relations with Washington. This was of particular concern as China rushed to fill the perceived void in the United States’ interest in Africa and its preoccupation with other parts of the world.


This perception, fueled by the Trump administration’s indifference to Africa only through the prism of the rapidly expanding power of China, is something Biden and Blinken hope to change. For example, Blinken did not once mention China by name in what was billed as a major speech on the Biden administration’s Africa policy that he gave on Friday.

However, China was not far from the top of the agenda.

“Our engagement in Africa, with Africa, is not related to China or any other third party,” Blinken said in Nigeria. “It’s about Africa.”

“Our goal is not to make our partners choose, but to give them choices,” he said in Senegal. “And when people have choices, they usually make the right choice.”

Senegalese Foreign Minister Isata Tal Sall, who will co-host the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation from November 29-30 with her Chinese counterpart, nodded in agreement with Blinken’s statement.

“We have sovereign diplomacy that does not exclude anyone,” she said. “There is not just one choice. We have many options.”


As Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama has pointed out, his country and others want the best deals they can get, and that often means looking to China.

“We saw a great opportunity with the Chinese,” he said of several major infrastructure projects now underway in Nigeria. I mean, they’re used to a lot of these massive capital projects and infrastructure projects. We would have gone with anyone else who was offering us something at a competitive price, but in a lot of areas they were.

“It is not a matter of one country or another per se; it is really a matter of the best deal we can make,” he said, comparing Nigeria to a woman whose many suitors are wooed.

“Regarding the US-China competition in Africa, I mean, I don’t want to sound sarcastic, almost, about it, but sometimes it’s good for you if you’re the attractive bride and everyone is doing you great things. Take what you can from all of them.”

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