December 7, 2022

Blinken to discuss human rights and democracy with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari: ‘It’s not an easy conversation’

Buhari and Biden
President Muhammadu Buhari with Joe Biden

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will discuss human rights and democracy when he sits down with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari next week, a State Department official told reporters on Friday, acknowledging that “it’s not an easy conversation,” to have.

Blinken will depart Washington D.C. on Monday evening for his first in-person trip to Africa as Secretary of State with Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal his first stops. Last April, Blinken made his first virtual trip to Africa with Nigeria and Kenya his first stops.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets virtually with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo

State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs Ervin Massinga told reporters on Friday that human rights will be ‘front and center’ during the discussions with the three African leaders and the civil society.

Massinga said “the conversations that the Secretary will have with African publics and African leaders will absolutely touch upon human rights and democratization, again, in the context of partnership and through a – through the lens of humility.”

“But having said that, yes, of course, we will also be talking about all elements of democracy and human rights. It’s not an easy conversation, but we look forward to having that conversation with our African friends, including in Nigeria, including in all the countries where the Secretary will be visiting,” he added.

Human Rights Watch said last month that the victims are still awaiting justice a year after security forces violently suppressed protests calling for an end to police brutality in Nigeria, asserting that the prospects for accountability remain inconclusive and bleak.

The organization called on Nigerian authorities to take concrete and decisive steps to ensure that those implicated in abuses against protesters are held accountable.

In October 2020, young people across Nigeria took to the streets calling for disbanding an abusive police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and for ending brutality in a movement tagged #EndSARS. Security forces responded with excessive force, including gunfire, which resulted in death and serious injuries.

“Nigerian authorities should clearly demonstrate that they are serious about holding those responsible for abuses against protesters to account,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Failure to pursue justice will strengthen the culture of impunity and reinforce the perceptions that brought protesters to the streets in the first place.”

Blinken will also discuss the ravaging coronavirus pandemic with President Buhari as well as the economy and President Joseph R. Biden Jr.s Build Back Better World (B3W) Initiative.

Massinga said, “We look forward to public discussion of the use of our – some of our most potent tools in both development and to promote sustainable, clean development:  Power Africa, Prosper Africa, and the initial stages of planning around Build Back Better World, but certainly Prosper Africa and Power Africa as the foundation for some discussions and perhaps announcements during the trip that will speak directly to your question related to renewable energy.  The United States is committed to working with African partners to promote clean and sustainable economic growth, and much of our trip or a good part of our trip will be designed to showcase that commitment. 

“COVID and the U.S. commitment to combating the COVID pandemic – thank you for the question – we are incredibly proud of the efforts that we have undertaken through a variety of mechanisms to bring lifesaving vaccines and medical techniques to Africans to address the pandemic.  There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and we’re working in multiple avenues to achieve it.  Some of the work that needs to be done is working in coordination with the African CDC.  The United States is very proud of its efforts to stand up and support the African CDC, and the African CDC has been an essential partner in the planning for the rollout of vaccines throughout the continent.  So that partnership endures and is very important. 

“Beyond that, there are discussions underway to address perhaps finding additional vaccine production facilities and value chains on the African continent itself, and I invite all of you to stay tuned and watch the development of the coming out – or developments coming out of the trip in that respect.”

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