U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is a good diplomat and he demonstrated it on Friday in Nigeria when he tapped into the country’s ego and self-esteem, the daily desire by Nigeria to be seen and accepted as Africa’s Big Brother. Blinken may have also revived the bitter and painful jollof rice war between Nigeria and neighboring Ghana, stopping short of saying who makes the best rice. “I’m a diplomat, so I’m going to steer very clear of that one,” he joked, trigging laughter in the audience.
In remarks to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Blinken said that “the “Giant of Africa” is an apt nickname for Nigeria, because this country looms large.”
“It’s great to be back in Abuja on, indeed, my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as U.S. Secretary of State. The “Giant of Africa” is an apt nickname for Nigeria, because this country looms large. Your strengths are undeniable – a dynamic democracy, a robust economy, and a very powerful civil society,” Blinken said.
ECOWAS is a West African regional body which makes vital contributions across the region to economic integration, security, democracy, climate and health, and which is located in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
Blinken noted that the challenges Nigeria faces are also undeniable as well – including the disruption and insecurity caused by terrorism and armed groups.
“Then there’s Nigeria’s cultural influence,” Blinken said. “People everywhere listen to afrobeats; they read Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; they watch Nollywood movies; they cheer for Nigerian athletes; they eat jollof rice.” “Now, I know there’s a fierce rivalry among West African countries about who makes the best jollof – well, I’m a diplomat, so I’m going to steer very clear of that one,” he said, referring the raging controversy between Nigeria and neighboring Ghana who has sparred for years over who makes the best jollof rice.
Blinken said Nigeria is so important that “what happens here in Nigeria is felt around the world. And that – in a nutshell – is why I’ve come to Abuja.”
To ECOWAS leaders, Blinken said Africa is a key partner of the United States in resolving global challenges, including in the areas of security, health, the global economy and the climate crisis.
He said, “The United States knows that, on most of the urgent challenges and opportunities we face, Africa will make the difference. We can’t achieve our goals around the world – whether that’s ending the COVID-19 pandemic, building a strong and inclusive global economy, combating the climate crisis, or revitalizing democracy and defending human rights – without the leadership of African governments, institutions, and citizens.
“Countries like Nigeria are not just global leaders, they are increasingly prominent around the world beyond this region, and they’re deserving of a prominent seat wherever the most consequential issues are discussed.
“Institutions like the African Union, ECOWAS, SADC, IGAD should play a larger role – and they should have a greater voice in global debates.
“The United States firmly believes that it’s time to stop treating Africa as a subject of geopolitics – and start treating it as the major geopolitical player it has become.
“The facts speak for themselves.
“This is a continent of young people – energized, innovative, hungry for jobs and opportunity. By 2025, more than half the population of Africa will be under age 25. By the year 2050, one in four people on Earth will be African. And Nigeria will surpass the United States as the third most populous country in the world.
“Africa is poised to become one of the world’s most important economic regions. When the 54-country African Continental Free Trade Area is fully implemented, it will comprise the fifth-largest economic bloc in the world, representing a huge source of jobs, consumers, innovation, and power to shape the global economy.
“As we work to end the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen global health security, we must work closely with the countries of Africa to build public health systems here that can prevent, detect, and respond to future emergencies – because as these past two years have taught us, none of us are completely protected unless all of us are protected.
“As the urgency of the climate crisis grows, our focus will increasingly be on Africa – to solve an emergency that threatens our collective security, our economies, and our health. Here, where the potential for renewable energy is greater than anywhere else on the planet, we see not only the stakes of this crisis but also – also its solutions.
“At this moment of testing for democracy around the world, we see across Africa a microcosm of what democracies can achieve – as well as the challenges that they must overcome.
“And as we debate how to govern the use of technologies to ensure they strengthen democracies – not undermine them – the choices that governments, industries, and innovators make here will affect people’s rights and freedoms everywhere for a long time to come.
“For all these reasons and more, I believe Africa will shape the future – and not just the future of the African people but of the world.
“That’s why I’m here this week, visiting three countries that are democracies, engines of economic growth, climate leaders, drivers of innovation.
“We’ve just come from Kenya, where we announced a new initiative to help more people get vaccinated against COVID-19; committed for the first time to join negotiations on a global agreement to combat ocean plastic pollution; and launched a project with National Geographic to empower young people across Africa fighting against the climate crisis.
“Here in Nigeria, we marked the signing of a $2.1 billion development assistance agreement that supports our collaboration in the fundamentals: in health, in education, agriculture, good governance. Later today, I’ll visit the “Innov8” start-up hub, to meet some of the inventors and founders who embody Nigeria’s entrepreneurial drive.
“And then in Senegal, I will join four U.S. companies signing agreements to collaborate with the Senegalese Government on infrastructure projects; visit the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, which is working toward COVID vaccine production with American support and investment; and meet with women tech and business leaders, because women are a powerful force for growth and innovation – in Senegal and everywhere.
“My trip reflects the breadth and depth of our partnerships in Africa – how we’re working together to find innovative solutions to new challenges, and how we’re investing in long-term sources of strength, rather than short-term fixes.”