United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Saturday met with President Macky Sall of Senegal on his final stop of his three-nation tour of Africa that took him from Kenya in the East to Nigeria in the West, and both leaders engaged in a wide range of issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, democracy and economic equity.
“Secretary Blinken and President Sall discussed shared global priorities of ending the pandemic, reigniting inclusive economic growth, and strengthening democratic governance and respect for human rights in the region,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a readout. “The Secretary applauded Senegal’s leadership on a range of issues in Africa and discussed deepening security cooperation while working together to meet the challenge of climate change.”
Blinken also tweeted, “Met today with Senegalese President Macky Sall in Dakar to discuss how we can increase global economic prosperity that is also inclusive. We also reaffirmed our commitment to addressing the climate crisis, & I thanked Senegal for its leadership on our shared priorities in Africa.”
In addition to those issues, Blinken also warned “a shadowy Russian company with connections to the Kremlin not to interfere in efforts aimed at restoring democracy in the West African nation of Mali,” noted the Associated Press.
According to the AP, Blinken said it be “unfortunate” if the Wagner Group became active in Mali ahead of the elections there.
The Wagner Group is a company owned by a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has been accused by Western governments and United Nations experts of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic and involvement in the conflict in Libya.
“France and Germany have objected to the presence of Wagner mercenaries in Mali, and the European Union said this past week that it would consider sanctions against anyone interfering in Mali’s democratic transition. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said the company has a “legitimate” right to be in Mali because it was invited by the transitional government, and he has insisted the Russian government is not involved,” noted the AP.
Blinken said at a news conference with Senegal foreign minister Aissata Tall Sall that Mali remains ” linchpin for future instability in the Sahel deep concerns about that stability and deep concerns about the extremism and terrorism that is spreading tentacles in the region.”
Blinken, who said he was speaking particularly about the Wagner Group, asserted that “It would be especially unfortunate if outside actors engage in making things even more difficult and more complicated.
“This is ultimately about the people of Mali and their aspirations for peace, their aspirations for development and respect for human rights,” he said. “We look forward to taking the next steps to resume the full array of assistance as soon as the democratically elected government has taken office.”
The Wagner Group, which has deployed mercenaries to Syria, the Central African Republic and Libya, drawing protests from the West and others, noted the AP, which added that West Africa’s region is the vast area south of the Sahara Desert where extremist groups are fighting for control.
“Mali has struggled to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a French-led military operation, but they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies,” noted the AP. “In June, Col. Assimi Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government after carrying out his second coup in nine months. Mali faces increasing international isolation over the junta’s power grab. Elections are due to be held in February, but the EU fears they will be delayed.”