September 22, 2023

Antony Blinken making second trip to Africa as battle for influence similar to Cold War era rages on the continent between the United States, China, Russia and Europe

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in the launch of the U.S.-Afghan Consultative Mechanism with Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2022. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in the launch of the U.S.-Afghan Consultative Mechanism with Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2022. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will be making his second trip to Africa August 7-12 to launch the U.S. Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa and strengthen ties as the battle for influence similar to Cold War era rages on the continent between the United States, China, Russia and the European Union. The announcement of his trip on Friday morning followed similar visits by Russian, French, and other American officials, who have been crisscrossing the continent to win hearts and minds amid the war in Ukraine and a global food crisis.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron visited several African nations this week, a week after Samantha Power, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International development returned from the continent. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced this week that she will be traveling to Ghana and Uganda next week. The United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa (SEHOA) Michael Hammer has also been traveling to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia July 24-August 1 to help forge a diplomatic resolution to issues related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as well as the devastating crisis in Tigray.

In a statement on Friday morning, the United States State Department said Secretary Blinken will travel to South Africa August 7-9, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on August 9-10 and Rwanda on August 10-12.

In South Africa, “The Secretary will launch the U.S. Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa, which reinforces the U.S. view that African countries are geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system, to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics, to shaping our technological and economic futures,” the State Department wrote. “In Pretoria, he will lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue to reinforce and deepen our commitment to bilateral cooperation on global issues as well as a wide range of shared priorities, including health, infrastructure, trade and investment, and climate.  In Johannesburg, he will join in the South African celebration of National Women’s Day.”

It added that “In the Democratic Republic of the Congo on August 9-10, the Secretary will meet with senior DRC government officials and members of civil society to discuss our mutual interest in ensuring free, inclusive, and fair elections in 2023, promoting respect for human rights and protecting fundamental freedoms.  He will also focus on combating corruption, supporting trade and investment, addressing the climate crisis, building agricultural resilience, and support regional African efforts to advance peace in eastern DRC and the broader Great Lakes region.

“Finally, the Secretary will travel to Rwanda on August 10-12, where he will meet with senior Rwandan government officials and civil society members to discuss shared priorities, including peacekeeping.  The Secretary will focus on the role the government of Rwanda can play in reducing tensions and ongoing violence in eastern DRC.  He will also raise democracy and human rights concerns, including transnational repression, limiting space for dissent and political opposition, and the wrongful detention of U.S. Lawful Permanent Resident Paul Rusesabagina.”

The United States, the European Union, China, and Russia seem back in the Cold War era where the West is portraying the East as the bad guys and the East is portraying the West as the bad ones.

In Cameroon this week, Emmanuel Macron called on the African continent for what he described as “hypocrisy” during a news conference in Yaounde with President Paul Biya of Cameroon on Tuesday, asserting that while Europe had identified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a war, much of Africa had not.

“I have seen too much hypocrisy, particularly on the African continent,” he said. “I’m saying this very calmly – with some not calling it a war when it is one and saying they don’t know who started it because they have diplomatic pressure.”

His remarks came on the second day of a three-nation tour of Africa at the same time that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was visiting other African nations, including Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lavrov sang praises for Africa for understanding what he described as the “root cause” of the war in Ukraine and reminded Africans not to forget those who colonized them and have continued to harm them.

He even published a column in newspapers in Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia, the four countries he toured, telling Africans, “We appreciate the considered African position as to the situation in and around Ukraine,” adding that “Although unprecedented by its scale, the pressure from beyond has not brought our friends to join the anti-Russian sanctions. Such an independent path deserves deep respect.”

The White House on Monday blasted Lavrov‘s African tour, asserting that he is “attempting to stem the onslaught of outrage against Russia” after invading Ukraine and causing a global food crisis. On his trip, Lavrov made the case that the invasion of Ukraine was justified and is not the cause of the global food crisis affecting Africa.

“The Russian federation knows its horrific war against Ukraine has caused the majority of the international community to see it as a pariah state,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing in Washington.

She said Russia has created a global food crisis by preventing grain exports and that Its bombing of the Odesa port is a violation of its own agreements. “Foreign Minister Lavrov as you just stated is attempting to engage with countries to try to stem the onslaught of outrage against Russia, especially by misrepresenting Russia’s role in causing a surge in global food insecurity,” said Jean-Pierre.

Lavrov, who visited Egypt on Sunday, was in Congo-Brazzaville on Monday, Uganda on Tuesday, and Ethiopia on Wednesday where he held meetings at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

The variety of opinions and positions in Africa was more evident last March when at least 25 of 54 African nations abstained from a vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the United Nations General Assembly, as many countries in the continent avoided taking a side on the war.

Blinken’s visit to Africa will come after a trip to Cambodia, the Philippines, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “Secretary Blinken will first travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 3-5 to participate in the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, and the ASEAN Regional Forum,” he wrote.  

“At each ministerial, the Secretary will emphasize the United States’ commitment to ASEAN centrality and successful implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.  He will also address the COVID-19 pandemic, economic cooperation, the fight against climate change, the crisis in Burma, and Russia’s war in Ukraine.  The Secretary will meet bilaterally with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn to discuss U.S. support for ASEAN and efforts to strengthen our bilateral relationship with Cambodia.  Secretary Blinken will also engage with alumni of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.

“In Manila, the Philippines, on August 6, the Secretary will meet with President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo to discuss bilateral efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Philippines alliance, including through increased cooperation on energy, trade, and investment, advancing our shared democratic values, and pandemic recovery,” he added.

Whether African nations refuse to take a side or not, the war in Ukraine is already affecting several nations that relied on Ukraine grain, now extremely rare and expensive after Russia blocked ports by the Black Sea fleet.

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